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Old 11-12-2018, 13:12   #1
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Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

Anyone who has cruised the Bahamas knows that you pay $300 for a cruising permit that is good for a year (used to be 6 months). What I didn't understand is that even if your boat is on the hard in storage, you cannot let that cruising permit expire.

In my case, the permit was issued Nov 15, 2017 and my wife and I cruised up to beginning of May. Rather than sailing back to Annapolis we decided to have the boat hauled in Freeport, the bottom done, engines serviced and stored until the following season.

In mid-November 2018 I went to Freeport, got the boat launched, spent about a week sorting out issues on the boat and then motored 100 yds to the nearest POE (a hotel/mariuna) and presented myself with paperwork for a new or renewed cruising permit. This was on December 2.

The hotel manager examined at my paperwork and looked pretty grim. She explained that my cruising permit had expired and that even though it was in storage, the boat was still in the Bahamas. Customs was not going to like that, she said. She spent a lot of time on the phone with people she knew, typed up a letter from me explaining that the boat was being repaired and I was unaware of the need to not let it expire and that I was trying to do the right thing. I had to take that letter with my paperwork to Customs headquarters and meet with someone from the Investigations Division. To say I was becoming concerned would be a gross understatement.

When I arrived and asked to see the person from Investigations a very polite but official looking young man came out to see me. He listened, examined the paperwork and allowed that letting the permit expire was a serious problem. He disappeared for about 15 minutes to confer with his superior.

When he returned he had a very serious look on his face. He said "Letting the cruising permit expire for even one day was a serious breach of Bahamian law." He paused (maybe for effect) and then continued. "The Cruising Permit is a temporary deferral of import duties and fees. When it expires with the boat still in the Bahamas the boat is considered to be imported and the duties and fees are immediately due and payable."

I quickly figured in my head the numbers for my boat. 10% duty and 7.5% VAT or, in my case, JUST OVER $103,000!!

He paused again to let that sink in. Then he said, "So please don't let it happen again."

When I could breathe again he took my $500 to renew (yes, it costs more to renew than to buy a new one but you don't have to check in at another country and return) and he updated my permit. He explained that I don't need to renew in person, it can be done by mail, and again reminded me not to let it happen again. I apologized (again) and thanked him profusely and left without further delay.

This may come as no surprise to long term cruisers in the Bahamas but it certainly surprised me. The fact that I was presenting myself and was trying to do the right thing is probably what convinced them to just educate me and let me off with a warning. But I think if they had discovered this on their own by a spot check of a vessel they would not have let it pass. The Bahamian Government is largely financed by import duties and related fees and, like most Governments, they always need more money and will get it wherever the law allows.
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Old 11-12-2018, 20:11   #2
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

Wow. Business opportunity there for a service to automate that for you.
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Old 11-12-2018, 21:24   #3
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

Nice story. Were you in Bradford Marine? My cat is there and I just renewed my permit last week when we flew down for a few days. Super nice woman at customs took care of it for me. Since I was doing it almost 2 months early she post dated the renewal.

I think it's when people are jerks is when they pull out the hammer. Really like the Bahamas.
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Old 12-12-2018, 00:30   #4
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

Yes, but.

The message for everyone here is really simple: don't let your cruising permit expire. These are the kinds of details that don't fit into the easygoing dreams people have, but are part of everyday reality for cruisers who go international.

Ann
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Old 12-12-2018, 04:33   #5
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

I'm very glad they were merciful to you. Drifting the topic a little, while my initial reaction to the tightening of paperwork standards and requirements is instinctively negative, when I give it a little thought, I see it as a good thing--or at least, a better thing than the slovenly way these things proceed in many countries.
There are places where entry and paperwork requirements vary from port to port, from port captain to port captain, and from day to day, depending on mood. For someone like myself (and most cruisers on this forum, no doubt) who try to always keep within the law, it can be extremely frustrating to find that the next port captain down the road is a stickler for a paper that the previous one dismissed with a wave, or didn't issue at all.
I've spent days sometimes, going from pillar to post trying to get an impossible amount of papers in an impossible sequence, because everyone has a different idea of what paper needs getting and what order to get them in. More often than not, it boils down to whatever petty official it is just trying to line his pocket with an unofficial "fee". So if a country spells out CLEARLY what it requires, and these requirements are enforced consistently, and everybody knows the rules, it makes it a lot easier for people like me who hate having to drop a $25 "fine" for an imaginary offense every couple of check-ins as we move through a place.
Sure, the official fees are becoming more expensive, but that's a small price to pay IMO for KNOWING exactly what's required, and not falling prey to corruption.
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Old 12-12-2018, 06:53   #6
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

I prefer where things are cheap and officials flexible.

I've never had to pay a bribe I thought unreasonably expensive.

Real corruption is something different, and the stuff at the level of MNCs and US politics is far worthier of our attention.
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Old 12-12-2018, 09:23   #7
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

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Originally Posted by JPA Cate View Post
Yes, but.

The message for everyone here is really simple: don't let your cruising permit expire. These are the kinds of details that don't fit into the easygoing dreams people have, but are part of everyday reality for cruisers who go international.

Ann

Well said. Remember, when in other peoples' countries, it is you who may be the deplorable foreign criminal, although I'm sure some of us are good people.
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Old 12-12-2018, 09:37   #8
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

Your story reminds me of the single time I renewed my cruising permit, in Marsh Harbour.

The agent there kept correcting me, wanting to know what port I'd left to come to the Bahamas. I persisted, and the renewal papers were very much more of a PITA for her than the start-from-scratch process.

I deduced that she wanted me to lie and say I'd just entered. It would have been cheaper for me, and simpler for her, if I'd 'corrected myself' and said I'd come from XYZ in the US.

To your experience, I'm not surprised at the eventual outcome of what was an honest mistake. But they DO remonstrate if you're late on your visa renewal (total 8 months continuous, limit), and don't much like you showing up more than a few days early, either. As I've never been late, and only too early once (where it was a nuisance, but not impossible, to return more timely), I can't say what would happen if YOU (vs the boat) had overstayed.

However, my experience with all levels of Bahaman officialdom is that they are proper but entirely reasonable in the end, even to the couple of boardings we've had from the Defence force...
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Old 12-12-2018, 09:42   #9
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

I am a rule follower so this question is just out of curiosity.

If you had presented yourself at a different marina with your Q flag in place, as a new arrival, would anyone know the difference? You don't have to clear out of the country
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Old 12-12-2018, 09:46   #10
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

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Originally Posted by mbuckely View Post
I am a rule follower so this question is just out of curiosity.

If you had presented yourself at a different marina with your Q flag in place, as a new arrival, would anyone know the difference? You don't have to clear out of the country
My point, above, and not even a different POE, as you certainly made it to that one, earlier.

Your level of risk tolerance (I dunno what the penalty would be on discovery) will perhaps govern if your ethics don't
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Old 12-12-2018, 09:50   #11
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

I enter the Bahamas through the Abacos, checking in at Green Turtle. In the past, I have been granted a 3-month entry--the office there is apparently unable to provide longer. This season I plan to stay for six months, so I thought, 'Why not contact the Bahamas Embassy/appropriate Consulate in the USA and get a six-month visa in advance of my arrival?'


The lesson (apparently) is don't waste your time. Three emails about how/where to do such a thing from the USA were sent over the last three months, and I still have not had a response. Unless anyone has a better suggestion, I guess I will skip Green Turtle and run down to Marsh Harbor to check in.


If anyone has a suggestion it would be much appreciated.
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Old 12-12-2018, 10:01   #12
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

Wallaby, the issue is of whether there is a separate Immigration officer available in the POE you use. Unfortunately, while I have not proven the point myself, the same is true for extensions.

But, but...

Technically you're supposed to check into the first available POE on your route. Thus, if you were crossing the banks, it would be either Grand (supplanting Walkers, but which stamp is what you'll get) or Spanish; to go to GTC is technically illegal unless you were coming in from the Atlantic closest to GTC.

OTOH, if you were coming over the top of the banks (outside) your direct route to MHH would be legal.

Yes, I know, the law is routinely flouted. But there you are...

To your point, you're unlikely to be stopped because you didn't hit one of those first, on the way. But technically, to put your anchor down on the banks or the Sea of Abaco represents grounding on Bahamian soil, and at that point you'd be obligated to head immediately to the nearest POE without even moving the big boat. And if it's not a major commercial point (i.e. West End, NAS, MHH, GGT), it's unlikely to have an immigration officer; the customs folks in other areas give you the 90 days as a courtesy...
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Old 12-12-2018, 10:15   #13
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

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Originally Posted by Anjin View Post
Anyone who has cruised the Bahamas knows that you pay $300 for a cruising permit that is good for a year (used to be 6 months). What I didn't understand is that even if your boat is on the hard in storage, you cannot let that cruising permit expire.

In my case, the permit was issued Nov 15, 2017 and my wife and I cruised up to beginning of May. Rather than sailing back to Annapolis we decided to have the boat hauled in Freeport, the bottom done, engines serviced and stored until the following season.

In mid-November 2018 I went to Freeport, got the boat launched, spent about a week sorting out issues on the boat and then motored 100 yds to the nearest POE (a hotel/mariuna) and presented myself with paperwork for a new or renewed cruising permit. This was on December 2.

The hotel manager examined at my paperwork and looked pretty grim. She explained that my cruising permit had expired and that even though it was in storage, the boat was still in the Bahamas. Customs was not going to like that, she said. She spent a lot of time on the phone with people she knew, typed up a letter from me explaining that the boat was being repaired and I was unaware of the need to not let it expire and that I was trying to do the right thing. I had to take that letter with my paperwork to Customs headquarters and meet with someone from the Investigations Division. To say I was becoming concerned would be a gross understatement.

When I arrived and asked to see the person from Investigations a very polite but official looking young man came out to see me. He listened, examined the paperwork and allowed that letting the permit expire was a serious problem. He disappeared for about 15 minutes to confer with his superior.

When he returned he had a very serious look on his face. He said "Letting the cruising permit expire for even one day was a serious breach of Bahamian law." He paused (maybe for effect) and then continued. "The Cruising Permit is a temporary deferral of import duties and fees. When it expires with the boat still in the Bahamas the boat is considered to be imported and the duties and fees are immediately due and payable."

I quickly figured in my head the numbers for my boat. 10% duty and 7.5% VAT or, in my case, JUST OVER $103,000!!

He paused again to let that sink in. Then he said, "So please don't let it happen again."

When I could breathe again he took my $500 to renew (yes, it costs more to renew than to buy a new one but you don't have to check in at another country and return) and he updated my permit. He explained that I don't need to renew in person, it can be done by mail, and again reminded me not to let it happen again. I apologized (again) and thanked him profusely and left without further delay.

This may come as no surprise to long term cruisers in the Bahamas but it certainly surprised me. The fact that I was presenting myself and was trying to do the right thing is probably what convinced them to just educate me and let me off with a warning. But I think if they had discovered this on their own by a spot check of a vessel they would not have let it pass. The Bahamian Government is largely financed by import duties and related fees and, like most Governments, they always need more money and will get it wherever the law allows.
Glad to see you post the warning and share your experience with the forum.

Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in any country. Similar laws apply almost universally. The cruising permit is your vessels equivalence of your personal entry visa. Staying beyond the terms of your visa invokes consequences, such as jail time / fines / deportation / confiscation of property / loss of future reentry rights. The cruising permit states that it is a temporary permit; Question: Why would you consider it to be anything other than a temporary allowance for entry? Answer: You failed to consider. Of course, import duties and registration requirements kick in beyond the specified temporary import time period for which limited period of waiver you paid $300. Ditto for staying beyond the cruising permit period of individual state waters in the USA.

"Rather than sailing back to Annapolis we decided to have the boat hauled in Freeport, the bottom done, engines serviced and stored until the following season." That was when a tremendous error in or lack of judgement occurred to think that you could exit their country in a timely manner, but that for convenience purposes your sound, seaworthy, vessel could overstay its "visa" to be in country without clearing customs or renewing its permit. You sail in, your vessel had better sail out.

As you have indicated, you were VERY fortunate that the Customs agency allowed you a waiver which discretionary waiver really is in fashion breaking their country's law by providing for selective enforcement. And you were very fortunate that they issued a renewal cruising permit so that you could yet again enjoy the hospitality of their country the following year. The could have told you to promptly GTFO. I am pretty amazed they were so lenient [ synonyms: merciful, clement, forgiving, forbearing, tolerant, charitable, humane, indulgent, easygoing, magnanimous, sympathetic, compassionate, mild] on both accounts.

Good of you to let everyone learn from your experience.
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Old 12-12-2018, 10:17   #14
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

Quote:
Originally Posted by mbuckely View Post
I am a rule follower so this question is just out of curiosity.

If you had presented yourself at a different marina with your Q flag in place, as a new arrival, would anyone know the difference? You don't have to clear out of the country
No, they would not. Many do it. However customs officials are checking the stored boats and making note of ones without and with expired cruising permits. If you are caught it is not a pleasant event. It is a good idea to leave a copy of the cruising permit with whomever you have stored the boat.
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Old 12-12-2018, 10:45   #15
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Re: Do NOT let your cruising permit expire in the Bahamas

It's just about all been said: definitely conform to their procedures. However, in response to the line a few posts back ( "And you were very fortunate that they issued a renewal cruising permit so that you could yet again enjoy the hospitality of their country the following year.") it's perhaps appropriate to point out that the Bahamian economy is based solely on tourism. The original poster owns /operates a vessel apparently worth north of $500K: I expect that he's spent a good sum sailing around the beautiful Bahamas. This is not say flaunt their laws and act like an imperial master, but keep in mind that taking your boat down their is good for you and also good (financially anyway) for the Bahamaians.
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