Boating Life: Preparing for New Countries

US passport

US passport

Since we are preparing to leave Fiji and enter new countries, we need to look ahead at the procedures and formalities for entering countries on our itinerary. Each country has potentially different requirements, restrictions, fees, and procedures. Some (like New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji) require advanced notice of intent to arrive well before you arrive in the country. Some require advanced application for a visa if you are staying longer than a few months (like Australia). Others allow you to apply for an extended visa after you arrive (like New Zealand). We have to research these requirements before we head to the countries so we can plan accordingly. Customs and immigration are concerned with the paperwork and legality of the boat and people respectively. It is important to have the proper paperwork filled out as required before and during arrival as it relates to the boat. Boat papers have to be in order, and all members of the crew have to have valid passports and visas (if required) with appropriate expiration dates. In some countries, like Vanuatu, its better to arrange to have the funds available for the fees in their currency. Some of the ports have no easy way to exchange foreign currency.

The health and quarantine related officials also have different procedures and restrictions, especially if you are carrying pets (which we don’t). The primary concern for a boater is whether the food or alcohol you are bringing into the country will be an issue. Some countries, like Australia and New Zealand (and many other countries), will not allow many different types of food to be brought in on your boat. You basically need to plan your provisions so you have very little food left when entering these countries – or they will confiscate the foods they don’t allow. In particular, they are concerned about foreign disease or critters being brought in with the foods.

Another related area that is very important to boaters is alcohol. For some reason, many countries seem to think that boaters should have the same limitations on alcohol being brought into the country as a tourist on an airplane. It seems reasonable to limit an airline traveler to say 2 or 2.5 liters of liquor. But, our sailboat is our home. We keep more than that just in case we have guests on board. And many sailors today (just like sailors of old) drink a fair bit every day. Can you imagine a sailor coming into a country for several months with only a couple bottles of wine and a six-pack? I think not! Yet, many countries have this alcohol restriction for boaters that should only apply to airline travelers.

There is a very useful website for cruising boaters that helps provide a wealth of information about the formalities and procedures, port information, restrictions, and information on many other services and even sightseeing tips. The web site is called Noonsite, and was originally developed as a resource to update information from the books by Jimmy Cornell related to his “World Cruising Handbook“. The web site is kind of like a Wiki guide on cruising information. See for example the details on entering/departing Vanuatu. The information on each country is kept up-to-date with input from cruisers sent in each year.

Preparing and entering a foreign country can be an adventure itself. For example, late last week I went to exchange money for Vanuatu Vatus at the bank. Other boaters told me that the bank at the airport was the only location with that currency available. Unfortunately, no one happened to mention what I would need to bring besides money. I spent an hour waiting and catching a bus to Nadi, then caught a taxi to the airport which took another 30 minutes. Then when arriving at the bank, after waiting 15 minutes in line, I was told you need to have a passport. I had funds with me for not only Tahina, but also another boat. So, I took a taxi all the way back to Port Denarau. After quickly getting my passport, I took the bus (only $1) back into town, and another taxi to the airport. I arrived at the bank, waited in line again, and prepared to exchange the money. The new teller says, “Ok, I need your passport and your plane ticket”. I say, “What plane ticket?! I arrived here on a boat and will be departing by boat.” He says: “Oh, then you need your boat papers.” You can imagine the look on my face at this point. I said, as calmly as possible: “I just went all the way back to Port Denarau to get the papers your other teller told me I needed.” My eyes were probably burning coals of fire. He said he would talk to the manager. When he came back a moment later, he said: “We can go ahead and exchange the money with just the passport. You can only exchange up to FJ$1000.” I had planned to get that much for each boat. Argh! So, I went ahead and did what they would allow, and got half the job done I had hoped for. Better half than none. Then I spent another 90 minutes getting back. That was an interesting day.

The experience of clearing in to each country is always interesting. Some officials are very nice and want you to have a positive experience welcoming you to their country. Others feel their job is the most important in their country and take it very seriously. If you deviate from expected formalities or procedures you could quickly find yourself in trouble with some officials. We have learned to look at each entry process as an experience itself. Its important to not try and rush the officials, and we find a friendly attitude is usually most helpful. Researching what is needed and filling out the paperwork properly and professionally will almost always earn you respect with the officials. A rubber stamp with your boat name on it will earn you more respect from some officials than you can imagine. Sometimes the process can be done in as little as 15 minutes. Usually it will last 1-2 hours. In some cases it can take more than a full day to complete the process – although that is rare.

Australia appears to have the most onerous entry requirements we have seen on the entire trip. Some highlights of the requirements are: 1) You must apply for a visa ahead of time, and it requires that you get a chest X-ray. That’s a new one! 2) You must give at least 96 hours notice ahead of arrival that you are coming – or face a huge fine. 3) Many of your foods will not be allowed and will be confiscated if you have unacceptable ones on board. 4) The fee for just quarantine is A$330 minimum (for 1 hour) – the highest fee by far we have seen. 5) There is a $47 per person departure fee. They get you coming and going in Australia. I guess this is the price we pay to enter a big country (a continent really) with modern facilities. Although, in the US, the entry costs are much more reasonable. But, in the US they also have stringent requirements on goods and security procedures for foreigners.

So, for every country, we have to do our homework and prepare well in advance for our arrival. Then, we have to be prepared for a sometimes lengthy and uncomfortable process when entering or leaving the country. And, have money available to pay our dues. It’s all part of the boating life when cruising around the world.

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