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The Gambia - Our Experience of the Clearance Procedure

By Sue Richards last modified Sep 13, 2010 10:45 AM

Published: 2010-09-13 10:45:24
Countries: Gambia

My wife and I arrived early on a Sunday in Banjul, The Gambia, in late September 2009. We anchored several hundred feet south of the Banjul port authority wharfs. We were told that all of the clearance offices (Customs, Immigrations, and the Port Authority) were open for business 7 days a week. After spending three hours walking between the nearby offices and speaking with government employees in their offices, it was clear that business would not be conducted on Sunday. I returned to my boat with nothing accomplished.

Over seven hours was spent trying to clear in with Customs, Immigration, and the Port Authority on the following Monday. Thank goodness all of the offices are within several short blocks of each other, and easy to locate. You do not have to hire a "friend" to escort you between government offices. Initally, each of the three offices noted that they were to be "the last office visited." This resulted in multiple visits to each office to resolve the issue that only one of the offices could truly be "the last office visited." Other issues faced during the long day included:

1) Immigrations requires a list of all ship stores, yet had no paper in their office for you to write them down on.

2) Immigrations requires you to fill out forms which they do not have blank copies of, so you have to hand draw the forms and fill them in using your own paper.

3) Immigrations fees appear to be based on the whim of the official behind the desk at the time you are clearing in. We were the seventh yacht to visit in 2009. Five yachts cleared in to The Gambia the week before. Another yacht cleared in the same day as we did. When we compared fees, there appeared to be no logical pattern to the charges. Some of the largest vessels were charged less than the 30 footers, yachts with 4 or 5 crew members were sometimes charged less than doublehanders. Our vessel was required to have a yacht inspection, and we paid for it. Yet, five other yachts were not required to have an inspection. It was very evident that the Immigrations official who did our inspection had never been on a boat before. Some crews were required to purchase VISAs and others weren't.

The total cost of clearing into The Gambia with a 40 foot boat with two crew members costs between $50 and $150 USD, based on the seven boats that visited in September 2009.

4) Immigration refused to give a receipt for any funds given to them, "It is the law in The Gambia that we do not have to give receipts."

5) Customs noted that visitors arriving by plane do not need VISAs.

6) The Port Authority which charges you a fee to anchor near Banjul and issues a river cruising permit does give you a receipt. They sell good quality paper charts of the Gambia River and tide tables. The table has numerous tide stations/locations along the river. The tides observed at most of the stations did not match the information documented in the table. Purchasing the tide table was a waste of money. During our 150nm trip up the river it was obvious when you were getting a free ride or fighting the flow.

7) Most of the offices claim to have no change, so fees are rounded up to the total of the amount of money you offer them.

8) There were numerous uniformed employees in the Customs office. Unfortunately, the only one who clears in yachts was out sick for an undetermined number of days/weeks with malaria. The sick employee had the only key to the filing cabinet which housed the clearance forms. The clearance process came to a complete stop because of this. At this point clearing yachts were told to check with the Immigration office daily to see when the clearance process would resume and be finalized.

9) All of the government employees spoke English and were pleasant, with one exception. One lady in Immigration was verbally agressive when it came to demanding creative fees.

10) The traditional roles and responsibilities of Customs, Immigrations, and the Port Authority in most countries are not followed in The Gambia.

Some of the cruisers in our group had a totally different clearance experience. Some spent less than 2 hours filling out forms and walking between offices. I guess it was the luck of the draw, or related to the amount of money you placed on the table.

Jason Trautz
S/V Vision Question