Clearance formalities vary greatly from country to country, being extremely simple in some and ridiculously complicated in others. The complexity of formalities is often a reflection of the nature of the regime in power and it can be safely assumed that the less liberal a country the more complicated its entry formalities.
Regardless of the country visited, or the kind of government in power there, formalities should always be taken seriously and even what look like illogical restrictions should always be complied with. Moreover, however lax or strict a country may be known to be, entry formalities must be completed as soon as possible, and the intention to do so must be indicated as soon as one enters that country’s territorial waters by flying the Q flag and contacting the relevant authorities by radio.
In the current security climate, it is now not unusual to have to advise the customs or coastguard authority of your ETA two or more days in advance. See the individual Noonsite formalities pages for the details.
The most common documents that are needed when clearing in are:-
Some countries also want to see:-
If firearms are carried, these should be licensed in the country of origin, as this licence will be requested in many places.
Pets must have international health certificates and their anti-rabies and other vaccinations should be kept up to date.
Divers who carry scuba diving equipment on board may be asked to show their diving qualification certificates before getting tanks filled.
Finally, a prescription or a letter from a doctor specifying the medicine, and why it is taken, should accompany any medicines containing powerful narcotics or habit-forming drugs, especially those used by a member of the crew on a regular basis, such as heart and blood pressure medication, diuretics, tranquillisers, anti-depressants, stimulants or sleeping tablets.
It is an international requirement that all vessels (including trailed sail boats) outside their home waters are properly registered. In many countries, for private yachts, there is available a simple, cheaper way to do this than to register on the more involved commercial register.
In the United States yachts can either be registered with the state where the owner lives, or if ownership can be traced to the original owner, the vessel can be documented with the Coast Guard. The latter is generally preferable if cruising abroad.
A certificate of competence, or some document showing the competence of the person in charge of the boat, is now required by officials in many countries.
A radio operator’s licence, whether for VHF, HF or amateur radio, is required in most countries, although this is rarely checked. Some cruising yachts carry an amateur radio, most of their operators being properly licensed to operate a maritime mobile station. However, in some countries such stations can only be used legally if the operator is in possession of a reciprocal licence issued by the country concerned. In most places this is a simple formality and costs a small fee. In a few countries there are strict restrictions on the use of any radio equipment while in port, while in others, such as Thailand and New Zealand, the use of portable marine VHF radios on land is forbidden.
Although some forms will have to be filled in on the spot, considerable time can be saved by having some papers prepared beforehand. It is always a good idea to have some photocopies of the ship’s papers as well as plenty of crew lists, with such details as first name, middle names, surname, date of birth, nationality, passport number and date of expiry of passport as well as details of the boat itself: name of vessel, flag, type (ie sloop), official registration number, gross and net tonnage, LOA (in feet and metres), call sign, name of registered owner, address of owner. A ship’s stamp is greatly appreciated in many countries where, for some strange reason, a rubber stamp has a certain authority.
Last updated January 2013.
While in some countries visa requirements are fairly clear, in others the situation concerning yachts is confusing. Foreign nationals arriving on a yacht can be treated basically in three different ways by the immigration authorities.
There are several suggestions concerning passports and visas which should be followed to avoid some of the problems that are known to have occurred in the past. Passports should have a validity well in excess of the intended period of travel. Many countries now insist that passports are valid for at least six months beyond the intended stay in their country.
For countries where a visa is required, this should be obtained well in advance, although one should make sure that the visa will still be valid when one arrives in the respective country as some countries stipulate that the entry must take place within three months of the visa being issued.
It is also a good idea to obtain visas for difficult countries, even if it is known that visas can be issued on arrival. A visa issued by their diplomatic mission abroad sometimes works wonders with local immigration officers. Wherever possible one should try to obtain a multiple entry visa, particularly for countries with overseas territories or dependencies, such as France (Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Réunion, St Pierre and Miquelon), Australia (Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling) or the USA (Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Guam).
Something that must noted when cruising, is that visa regulations do change and often without warning. Always try to find out the latest situation before sailing to a certain country.
As most countries maintain diplomatic missions in neighbouring countries, these are the best places to ask about changes and to apply for any necessary visas. Occasionally regulations change so quickly that even the diplomatic missions do not know about it.
Visa requirements, and the political climate generally, can often change quickly due to the improvement or deterioration of relations between countries.
Last updated June 2010.
In some countries, cruising boats are subjected to special regulations or restrictions concerning their movement.
In most places if a cruising permit or transit log is required, it is issued at the first port of entry, so it is not necessary to make any preparations in advance. Any restrictions on the freedom of movement of yachts which do not require a cruising permit to be obtained in advance are discussed on that country's Noonsite page.
It is most important to know the particular requirements of those permits which must be applied for before arrival, so as to make the correct preparations.
The regulations pertaining to at least three such countries, Indonesia, Palau and the Galapagos Islands, have been causing great confusion among cruising sailors for years and their Noonsite pages are regularly updated. The USA also has some onerous restrictions for foreign yacts.
There are various reasons why restrictions on cruising boats are imposed, the main reasons being the protection of remote communities from intrusion, the preservation of natural parks and reserves, or the wish of authorities to keep foreign sailors away from sensitive military areas.
Restrictions are also increasingly imposed on genuine cruising boats because of illeagal chartering.
Last updated June 2010.