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Old 29-07-2009, 13:18   #1
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St. John Customs / Immigration

My brother and I will be chartering for our thirtd time in the BVI's the week after Thanksgiving. On our first two charters, we never made it to the USVI's. This trip we definitely want to spend a couple of days snorkling St. John. Our concern is the time required to go thru customs. We've been advised by our charter company that this can take up to four hours, due to cruise ships, etc.

Can anyone provide us with first hand experience on clearing customs in Cruz Bay? Best days, times, etc.?

Thanks in advance!
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Old 29-07-2009, 13:46   #2
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Other than avoiding holiday weekends, when boaters come over from Puerto Rico, I'm not sure there's a best day or time to clear in.

Best case senario: pick up a mooring in Caneel Bay, dinghy around to the Park Service dock in Cruz Bay (15 min), walk to Customs (5 min), clear in (10-15 min), back to the boat (20 min). All told, about an hour and a half, including picking up the mooring and getting the dinghy ready.

Getting to Customs just after a ferry arrives from the BVI can add 20-30 minutes of waiting in line. I've never experienced a cruise ship coming in, but I believe the cruise liners fax all the info in advance, so it might not be a disaster, time-wise.

You don't have to clear out of the USVI if all aboard are U.S. citizens, but you will have to clear back in to the BVI.

You'll have to clear out of the BVI before entering the USVI.
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Old 29-07-2009, 14:01   #3
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I agree, never had over a 15 min wait and that was when we came in on a ferry from Tortolla, other times it was less that 10 min. It is a MUST SEE ISLAND - IMHO.
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Old 29-07-2009, 14:07   #4
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I've gone right in to cruz bay, anchored and got through customs rather quickly before. BTW, go around the island to Salt Pond or Lamshur bay and anchor there. I cant remember which I like but I think it is Salt Pond. Less busy and pretty there. check your charts. Great spot.
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Old 30-07-2009, 08:44   #5
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Are you an USA citizen? If not, check with the charter company to be sure that you have the proper visa's or whatever is needed to enter the USA islands. I have heard that entering on a boat needs a pre-issued visa, but taking the ferry across does not. Go figure?
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Old 30-07-2009, 08:58   #6
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osirissail has a good point. If all not US citizens it could complicate the process. Several nationals can not enter the USVI by private boat with out prior approval visa's... English for example due to some tit for tat rules applicable US boats the English have.

If your draft is no more than about 5 feet, a small short term (45 Min) anchorage is marked by a buoy just to the West of the Customs Building on the Northern side of the Left portion of the Bay. Confused? It really isn't that hard... just go to Port as you enter at the Divided Channel Marker.

This location can only hold a couple of boats depending on size and it becomes very shallow fast so stay near but never in the channel. I typically dink over to the dink Dock and walk back to the customs office as the office does not have a dink dock and some larger power boats would crush you if they came in.

Avoid the whole thing by purchasing the boat, make sure is it US Documented and get the LBO (Local Boater Option) card and just call in your clearance. The place you will probably want to snorkel is Waterlemon Key about a mile and half from West End BVI where you would clear out. The trip to Cruz Bay is probably what the charter company considered when they said it would take 4 hours to clear in, And as has been mentioned if all are US Citizens you do not have to check out... but you must check back into BVI.

Note this 2nd option may require additional funds.
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Old 30-07-2009, 14:18   #7
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Willybuoy,

I forgot to mention the fact that, contrary to every other country to which we've sailed, in the U.S. everyone on board must physically report to customs/immigration "for inspection" when clearing in.
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Old 31-07-2009, 22:52   #8
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US Territory & Visa's

We have just spent two year cruising the Caribbean. Most non US Citizens need a Visa for US Territories - a lot of British get caught out with this one because they think the visa waiver rules that apply to arriving in US territory on some aircraft will apply to them on a boat. They don't as they only apply to approved carriers which the boat is not! You are also supposed to clear in every time you leave US territorial waters which I have seen applied a couple of times in the USVI. Every member of the crew has to report for clearance which if you do not a have a secure berth or anchorage can be awkward as you have to leave the boat unattended. Interestingly you don't need to clear outward in the USA or their Territories - never worked out how their security system works in this way and if you for example go to the USVI by ferry from Sopers Hole in the BVI there are no checks on arrival BUT watch out if you do that and then try to fly out of the USVI - life can get interesting at the airport - but sometimes it works OK. A number of our friends went to the USVI once but then avoided it because of the hassle! Note the USVI authorities do seem to have quite sophisticated vessel monitoring systems so in general its not worth the risk of "calling in" without going through the clearance proceedures. We witnessed a number of boats being instructed to go to / being escorted to the a customs berths for inspection because they were spotted in US territorial water without having cleared in.
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Old 01-08-2009, 07:33   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jbowering View Post
never worked out how their security system works in this way and if you for example go to the USVI by ferry from Sopers Hole in the BVI there are no checks on arrival .
Sorry, This is NOT correct, when you go from Sopers Hole by ferry to the USVI your first stop is US Customs and Imigrations either at St. John or more often St Thomas.

I make this trip more than 6 times every year, the last bing in June.
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Old 01-08-2009, 07:39   #10
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That is good information about foreign vessels in USVI waters being "spot checked." Do you know who was doing the checking? USCG? or USVI Marine Police? And were they approaching and boarding boats underway? Or boats Anchored in the USVI?
It was my understanding that any non-US crew had to also Check-out of any USA port so that they know who has left. US citizens check-in but do not "have to" check-out. What was your experience with having to check-out of USA as a Brit?
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Old 01-08-2009, 09:05   #11
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US Territories

It was the USCG doing the checking - we saw one boat boarded and two escorted (told to proceed) to a berth for a full inspection. As best we could work it out they were boats that were in USVI water but had not cleared inwards. One of our friends had this experience too - he thought he could nip over from the BVI and just "camp" out of sight before returning - didn't work. We also know from talking to American boat owners that they tend to head across to the BVI and cruise there as it is less hassle. (Dont be put off - its worth a visit as is Puerto Rico but stick to the rules!) We have cruised to and from US for some time and were equally suprised to find they were not intrested in clearing us out. I was worried about having no documentation for the next port, however the customs in the immediate area are used to it so it was no problem - T & C in our case. Not sure what would happen if you turned up in Spain with no prior clearance though!
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Old 01-08-2009, 09:09   #12
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OK let me be quite specific - as a UK citizen you do not need and are not checked for a visa to go by Ferry from Sopers Hole to USVI.
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Old 01-08-2009, 09:12   #13
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Sorry forgot to add that this is the practice and when I first did it was confirmed by the BVI authorities before I got on the ferry - what the legal position is in the USVI I have no idea.
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Old 01-08-2009, 09:55   #14
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jbowering - the difference is that the American visa waiver program which applies to many countries is only applicable when traveling by a commercial vessel with an arrangement (i.e. bond) with Homeland security. This would be any airline and commercial ferry. Private vessels are not covered by this and a visa is required by all non-American persons aboard prior to arrival at a U.S. port. I think that the only exception is for Canadians (NAFTA).
The only way that one can travel from the BVI to the U.S. VI on a private vessel without a visa is to take a ferry across to U.S. VI, then return to the BVI but to keep the I-94 form upon exiting the USA, then when clearing back into the U.S.VI this I-94 form remains valid for the person. When I first heard this I didn't believe it would work, but I asked at the Charlotte Amalie C&I office as well as when checking in to St. John earlier this year and that method was confirmed by both officers (I have a visa, so didn't need to do this, but it sped up my checkin time the second trip a bit).

To add to the matter, those who use the Visa Waiver programme are now required to checkin online prior to travel via commercial carrier, see U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Travel for details.
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Old 02-08-2009, 12:28   #15
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No, a UK citizen does not need a visa. Customs/immigration will issue you a temp visa when you arrive in the USVI by plane, boat or any other way.
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