How do customs and immigration work in a sailboat?

  • So, I have this crazy dream. I'd love to purchase a little sailboat, make my way down the East Coast, across the Carribean, down South America, and end up in the Falklands, maybe Tierra Del Fuego, and Antarctica if I really could develop some seamanship skills. As I think about the logistics, I realize, it's a bit of an undertaking, but from a skill level, it seems "do-able."

    What has just occurred to me from a planning perspective, however, is that I have just totally schluffed off the important legal niceties, of oh, entering a foreign country! But then I realize, a coastline is way bigger than the secured portion of an airport.

    So, here's the question. Let's say I've shoved across from Florida and sailed down to Brazil. Yes, that's a long trip, but I'm going to guess the islands are a bit more sophisticated when its comes to ports. When I show up in Brazil, what's to stop me from pulling into a harbor, getting out of the boat, walking into the town, and buying supplies?

    At what point do I need to show my passport, do a customs declaration or in any fashion present myself to authorities as a gringo who needs to be admitted to the country?

    In other words, how do I legally enter a country when I'm in a private sailboat?

    I also found a website called that tells you whom to contact in each port.

    I believe as you approach the port you can put out a call on marine radio channel 16 to the harbour master and they will advise you on the proper procedure.

    Who's going to know? just boat in and get out. The US can't patrol every single mile of shoreline, just not possible. I would have thought it was easy to get into virtually any country in a small sailboat, as no country can monitor every single foot of its shoreline. Border patrol is a load of old tosh, its only effective if you abide by it, thats half of the border patrols hope, that you will report in but if you don't and carry enough cash with you, chances are you could wander about the US for some time and probably leave in the same fashion too. I wouldn't worry about it.

    There are quite a few YouTube vloggers who are doing this, watch their videos. Many cover the process quite thoroughly. Two I can recommend (I am not affiliated with them, except as a very envious subscriber) are S/V SeaWolf and S/V La Vagabonde

  • Mark Mayo

    Mark Mayo Correct answer

    8 years ago

    A friend did something similar, where he kayaked from Vancouver, Canada to Alaska.

    Turns out you need to report in the same day you arrive. He was tired and slept that night, and the next day went to check in. Naturally there was a) no record of him leaving Canada and b) he'd been on US soil for 24 hours as an illegal alien. They sent him packing and there's some interesting legalities about whether he can go back now...

    Then an Irish backpacker I met in Colombia had crossed from Venezuela into Colombia across a bridge where there wasn't a checkpoint, despite being told there was one.

    So she bussed down to the next town where there was one, and went to sign in. They pointed out that she hadn't signed out of Venezuela. So she had to go across the river again (across a bridge that was literally on fire, but that's a different story) to sign out, and then return to Colombia to sign in.

    So it's a little flexible depending on the country. However, whenever you leave a port, ask the officials there, as they'll be certain to know what the rules are about getting to the next place. Check with the embassies for those countries.

    For example, Costa Rica points out this bit about signing out of the previous country first, and then presenting your documents when you arrive.

    The USA is very specific, requiring you to report your arrival to CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) immediately.

    Once you've reported either in person or by communication to an office, they'll usually advise on whether you need to come in to get a stamp or fill out paperwork and so on. Always report in a timely fashion, always try to go directly to an official port with immigration facilities, and always get it in writing if possible to confirm that you've done the right thing.

    A yacht's very different from a kayak or backpacker: you've got an 'address', and you are unlikely to vanish into the crowd.

    The USA link is broken

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM