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Old 07-01-2015, 09:33   #1
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Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

How thorough are the searches by customs in the Caribbean countries? Lets include Venezuela, Columbia, and all the Latin American countries. Have any of you dealt with customs tearing up your boat and checking every nook and cranny they could find? Have you ever had anything valuable stolen by customs? For instance, if you were to open up a safe that contained silver coins, would they "confiscate it". I know there are a lot of bad apples, I just want to know which countries to avoid crooked authority figures. Probably all, but which are the worst. And what about guns? Have you ever "lost" a gun from customs?
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Old 07-01-2015, 09:48   #2
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pirate Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

Stick to the laws of the land your entering and they're cool.. even Oz where they're well stringent..
The gadgets they have these days keep damage really minimal.. till they find something..
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Old 07-01-2015, 10:45   #3
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

black tiger - first, and this may cause some issues here, leave the gun at home; you do not need it.

second forget venezula, it is way to dangerous. colombia is one of the safest places we were.

we have sailed both sides of the carib and never had an issue. in the dr they did look everywhere and we even gave then flashlights to help. we never lost anything anywhere.

the only time we were not with a customs official in our saloon was in the usa when homeland security, not the cg, who went below and made us stay in the cockpit with another officer while he kept his hand on his gun.

relax it is ok.
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Old 07-01-2015, 12:55   #4
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

Thanks Chuckr, about the warning on Venezuela. I did see a lot of gun point stories, even people visiting Curacao. I probably will be staying in columbia during hurricane season. I hear the ladies are very attractive.
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Old 07-01-2015, 13:13   #5
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

I'm just a little to the Right of Attila the Hun. But the hassles of having a firearm on board in most of the Caribbean countries is just to much to deal with for me. Do not try to conceal one. The down side is just too big.

I loved Panama and Columbia. I avoided Ven. also but a friend of mine had a friend with local contacts and went in and bought a lot of fuel at a very low price. It is possible but a little too risky for me.
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Old 07-01-2015, 14:49   #6
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

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I'm just a little to the Right of Attila the Hun. But the hassles of having a firearm on board in most of the Caribbean countries is just to much to deal with for me. Do not try to conceal one. The down side is just too big.

I loved Panama and Columbia. I avoided Ven. also but a friend of mine had a friend with local contacts and went in and bought a lot of fuel at a very low price. It is possible but a little too risky for me.
I was actually thinking about concealing a very small revolver. I was thinking about building a spice cabinet with a hidden compartment and plaster wall paper to conceal any noticeable slits/cracks to the concealed compartment. I would just mark where the access hole was and poke my finger right through the paper in an emergency situation. But you may be right... I'm not up for 3 to 10 years in prison. I'll just have to face any consequences, including death if its my destiny. How were slip rental prices in both panama and columbia, live-aboard specifically. I would need internet access at all times.
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Old 07-01-2015, 16:07   #7
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

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I was actually thinking about concealing a very small revolver. I was thinking about building a spice cabinet with a hidden compartment and plaster wall paper to conceal any noticeable slits/cracks to the concealed compartment. I would just mark where the access hole was and poke my finger right through the paper in an emergency situation.
You watched too many movies. Don't do it. You are a guest in the host country, respect their laws.
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Old 07-01-2015, 16:15   #8
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

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I would just mark where the access hole was and poke my finger right through the paper in an emergency situation.
Problem is that even if it saves your life in an emergency situation, it may only be saved so you can spend it in jail for having an unlawful weapon.

When my wife and I first started discussing living aboard (which we will be doing in a few years) I figured we'd have a gun. Then I read how much of a hassle it is and illegal in many areas and decided that I didn't need it. I'm at more risk driving to work every day.
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Old 07-01-2015, 16:20   #9
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

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I was actually thinking about concealing a very small revolver. I was thinking about building a spice cabinet with a hidden compartment and plaster wall paper to conceal any noticeable slits/cracks to the concealed compartment. I would just mark where the access hole was and poke my finger right through the paper in an emergency situation. But you may be right... I'm not up for 3 to 10 years in prison. I'll just have to face any consequences, including death if its my destiny. How were slip rental prices in both panama and columbia, live-aboard specifically. I would need internet access at all times.
They find stuff for a living. And electronic sniffers are getting cheaper....

We anchored the whole time. My friend had a slip in Bocas del Toro but I don't know how much he paid and he is out of contact for a while.
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Old 07-01-2015, 17:52   #10
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

Out of curiosity several people have referenced electronic sniffers. What would they sniff? Explosives is all I have experience with electronic sniffers? Not counting the ones that find freon leaks


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Old 07-01-2015, 18:14   #11
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

In 20 years of sailing, I've never had customs anywhere search my boat invasively. I've also carefully avoided doing anything illegal, or having anything to hide. As for a hidden revolver: don't you think that if it was hidden well enough to not be found, it would be hard to get to if you really needed it? and if you wanted to access it after three or five years, would you trust it not to be rusted from salt air, and still in good working order? Seems dicey at best.
One last thing, and sorry to air a pet peeve, but could everyone try and spell "Colombia" correctly? It is not spelled with a 'u', and anyone who's been there and seen it written down several dozen times should not struggle with that.
Have fun, don't be paranoid, treat the customs officials with friendly respect, and enjoy the trip. Colombia is a most wonderful country.
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Old 07-01-2015, 18:55   #12
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

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Out of curiosity several people have referenced electronic sniffers. What would they sniff? Explosives is all I have experience with electronic sniffers? Not counting the ones that find freon leaks
...
Never encountered such anywhere in Latin America (except in major airport security). Only "sniffer" I've ever seen here are drug dogs and they are not commonly used on the typical crusing boat unless they are suspicious. I have had dogs used on my Jeep at check points ashore though and my boat once in Cuba (on departure, so they may have been searching for stow aways not drugs).

Belizean Customs can be a PITA, but less likely with a transient cruising boat, they mostly hassle those of us who cross often.

Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Colombia... never had any issues with Customs or other officials.

Never had an invasive/thurough search done of my boat anywhere and only rarely have been boarded at all (Guatemalan officials usually come aboard to do paperwork, but its all friendly). Have had a few cursory searches done...including Jamaica where they boarded days after we had cleared in while at anchor. They were interested in drugs or guns, but only did a cursory search.

Have been boarded once underway off Guatemala just to check paperwork, but that was once in many years of transiting the area.

I would not want to be caught with an undeclared gun anywhere. Inquiring whether you have weapons aboard is SOP almost everywhere...getting caught lying to officials does not end well.
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Old 07-01-2015, 19:01   #13
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

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...For instance, if you were to open up a safe that contained silver coins, would they "confiscate it"....
Most countries have limits on amounts of foreign currency or equivalent. Usually $10,000USA. A boat was impounded a few years ago in Belize because he alledgedly had about $100K aboard which he did not declare on entry.
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Old 07-01-2015, 19:16   #14
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

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... Have you ever had anything valuable stolen by customs? ... I know there are a lot of bad apples, I just want to know which countries to avoid crooked authority figures. Probably all, but which are the worst. ...
I've travelled by land and sea all over Central America for the past decade and have never encountered these "bad apples" you think are so commom here. Minor corruption is common, and convenient, but being overtly ripped off by officials is rare for a typical cruiser.

I have however had many officials in Latin countries (which does not include Belize) go out of their way to be helpful. Treat them with friendly respect and you will almost certainly receive the same in return.
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Old 08-01-2015, 01:41   #15
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Re: Experience with Customs in the Caribbean

blacj tiger -- colombia - cartagena - yes the ladies are incredibly attractive and while i have an admiral on board and all i can do is look, we had a brit freind who met many an attractive young lady -- the city is also ver safe as we were walking around at 0200 with no issues and of course the clubs and bars really get started at 2400.
the marina in cartagena is not attractive but the last we knew they were working on it - the water is probably the dirtest we have seen anywhere so you will need a bottom job just before you leave and the paint is excellent and reasonable.
as for internet the marina had it and it worked well. your other option is a dongle and you maybe quite surprised at the low cost.
panama depends on where you are. in the san blas there are no marinas so you anchor. internet is via dongle for the most part. but the san blas is one of those very special parts of the world. by the way it is so big that the cruisers morning net is on hf radio.
portobelo has no marina and internet is at capt jacks rest.
skip colon unless you want mugged by either the local bad guys on the city side or the marina on the other side. the marina is very very expensive.
in eastern panama is bocas del toro and there are a few marinas but the cruising and water are not even close to the san blas.
hope this helps -- oh get an ssb radio it helps.
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