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Old 18-07-2009, 08:11   #1
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St. John, USVI Customs

First off, thanks for the feedback on our contemplated trip to the BVI's in October. We were able to find reward flights to Puerto Rico in November, so we're now booked for the week after Thanksgiving.

We will be sailing in the BVI's, but would like to do some snorkling off St. John in the USVI's. Our charter representative advised that going thru customs could take as long as four hours!

My question is this......

At what point do you need to go thru customs? If we were to simply sail around St. John without going ashore, would we need to pass thru customs? If so, is there an invisible line between Tortola and St. John when crossed requiring going thru customs? What if we anchored offshore to snorkle, without touching land?

Any information would be appreciated.

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Old 18-07-2009, 08:21   #2
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It is not a matter of a line. It is my understanding that if you made landfall or if you anchor (or grab a mooring ball) in the USVI, you need to have gone through customs -- and don't just dinghy or taxi to the office. That can be a pain, but the 4 hours, in my experience, is exaggerated.

It is very unlikely that you will be caught if you cheat -- but if you are caught, the consequences can be dire.

You also need to clear out of the BVI, by the way, and back in, if you are returning. That is usually very quick.

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Old 18-07-2009, 09:35   #3
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They generally are nasty in the office and everyone on the boat must go to the office. I guess if you include the time anchor around the coner from Cruz Bay, ferry everyone by dinghy to the office, do the paperwork, return to the boat, up anchor and then go snorkeling it could take time but not 4 hours. You can possibly checkin and out at the same time if you're only staying the day otherwise you have to do the same thing on the way out. Of course you will also have tho chec in and out of the BVIs in West end where they also can be surley.
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Old 18-07-2009, 10:28   #4
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I've cleared in at St. John before and it was fast, efficient and easy. I spent more time looking for a place to anchor in Cruz Bay (my boat has a deep keel) than checking in. As specialD has already hinted at - anchor or take a mooring ball around the corner and then dinghy in. If you and all aboard are not US citizens you will all need visas in order to do this, the visa waiver system does not apply.
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Old 18-07-2009, 12:15   #5
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Back in the 80s Immigration had a bit of a reputation but since we have been back for three years we have to agree with Zanshin about fast, easy and efficient service. Often we combine Immigration with a walk up to Mongoose Junction (shops, restaurants,etc.) or laundry and/or trash dropoff. As suggested above, grabbing a mooring around the corner (north) towards Caneel Bay works well;you don't have to pay unless you overnight.
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Old 18-07-2009, 15:08   #6
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You can avoid the whole thing in most cases simply by getting your Local Boaters Option Card before you go. All you do then is call in your intentions After you have Cleared Out of BVI. While you may still have to come into Cruz Bay, I've been using the LBO for several years and have made dozens of hops to St. John and St. Thomas with never being requested to go to Cruze Bay. From what I understand they have some type of random requirement that some people have to check in. No idea if it is 1 in 20 or 1 in 200 or someplace between. I have known one boat who moved between West End BVI to Waterlemon at St. John (about 1.25 miles) who did a call in and was told to go ahead and take a mooring and an officer would be by to clear them in. Apparently they had a Customs/ USCG team working the area.

NOTE: As has been said before, you can probably get away without checking out of BVI or into USVI... but you may not. Also the 4 hours to check in is probably including the typical sail time from BVI to Cruz Bay. When I have gone into Cruz Bay prior to getting the LBO it took no more than 7 to 10 minutes and less if you have the forms completed prior to entering. The problem is getting a anchorage/ mooring near the Customs House in Cruz Bay. A free anchorage is located just west and north of them but the draft is about 5 feet and your limited to 45 minutes and it is a 10 minute walk around the bay since no "good" dink dock is available at the Customs House and some large Power boats often hog what limited dock space is provided.

Taking a mooring at Caneel Bay and going by dink to the Customs House is generally accepted as OK. In the winter it can be a wet ride as the seas can get a bit high in Pillsberry Sound.

Short answer is get the Local Boaters Option card.
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Old 18-07-2009, 17:05   #7
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last december i found it was truly more difficult to find a place to anchor/moor in cruse bay than to check in...was sooo fast and easy and the officials were nice and polite....there was no problem and we didnt have a boater card.....
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Old 22-07-2009, 09:20   #8
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Immigration was helpful

In 2005 I was on a ASA course down there run out of Red Hook by an American company, we had sailed over to the BVI and checked in there for a couple of days, on our return to St John the US Immigration discovered that I hadn't had my passport stamped when I entered the US a few days earlier, they didn't make a fuss, just a couple of questions and another form and I was back in the country. The immigration at Jost Van Dyke was slow and tedious though.
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Old 22-07-2009, 10:16   #9
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Last December we checked in at Cruz Bay and it took at least 15 minutes! The officers were very friendly and no problems. We caught a mooring ball just outside of Cruz Bay and "dingied" around - this was suggested in one of the cruising guides.

A question, if you're chartering in the BVIs, why go through the hassle of going in and out of the USVI and BVI when there are so many great spots for snorkeling without the added hassles and time? We love St. John but I would spend the time just to go snorkling there (my 1.3 cents).

Whatever you decide, have a great trip.

craig in hot seattle
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Old 22-07-2009, 10:59   #10
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I couldn't agree with you more, with the limited time and all the beautiful spots in the BVI's, I wouldn't even consider the USVI just to snorkle.


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