US Citizens – Have you signed up for the SVRS (Local Boater Option) program?
This is a variation on the “Trusted Traveler” program, allowing you to usually just call Customs and Border Patrol to report your arrival from a foreign country back to the US – great for those going to the Bahamas or Mexico or who are in the Caribbean and hopping back and forth between US islands and those of other countries.
However – as we learned when we returned from the Bahamas (I’d never heard about this before) – if you renew your passport after originally being accepted into the SVRS program, you must either:
- Go to an SVRS enrollment site with your new passport BEFORE leaving the US and have your passport number updated in their system. No, you can’t do it by phone or online. It must be in person and can be anytime prior to leaving the US (that is, you can update it even if you don’t have immediate plans to take your boat out of the US). Most SVRS enrollment sites do not require an appointment, but some do so you might want to call ahead and see if you need an appointment.
- OR, when you return to the US, you’ll have to check in at a CBP station in person. If that CBP station is a SVRS enrollment site (not all are), they can update your passport number at the same time.
For those who aren’t familiar with SVRS, you can learn more about it here. You apply online, then have an “interview” at an SVRS processing site where they take (and run) your fingerprints and examine your passport. Then you are given your SVRS number (also referred to as a “BR” number since all start with the letters “BR”). Everyone on board needs their own BR number, not just the captain.
NOTE: The boat is also required to have a CBP border-crossing decal, commonly called a DTOPS sticker, for you to be able to phone in (I’ve heard you are supposed to have this sticker even if you aren’t a SVRS participant). Get yours here.Once you enroll in the SVRS program and have your DTOPS sticker, when you are ready to return to the US, you file a CBP Float Plan (this is NOT the “in case of emergency” float plan that you leave with a trusted friend or family member) and then call in when you are anchored or docked back in the US. A few things to know about the CBP Float Plans:
- You must file it online within 24 hours of your planned departure from the foreign country. In reality, file it from your last stop with internet availability – the form itself acknowledges that dates are not set in stone.
- The form is a little confusing in the mechanics of how to fill it out and progress from one screen to another. Click on the topic you want, then click Next at the bottom of the screen . . . and you can prepare the form several days in advance and then activate it at the last minute. I recommend this in case you have problems with it, so that you don’t have time pressure.
- The web site is very picky about what internet browser you use. I could only get it to work with Internet Explorer — not the newer Microsoft Edge, not Chrome, not Firefox. Friends with Apple products report that it does not work with Safari, but does work with Chrome. So if you have problems, keep trying different browsers. Another reason to begin working on it in advance.
- Some Ports of Entry (Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in particular) almost insist that you have a float plan on file when you call to check in. In other places – such as Florida – it makes the process much faster, but no one gets upset if don’t.
You are required to call once you anchor or dock in the US. You may still be selected to check in at a CBP station (aka “Port of Entry” — usually at an international airport) within 24 hours of your arrival, so it is wise to plan your entry for a location where you could easily get to a check-in location. For the record, the CBP facility at the Marathon airport in the Florida Keys is extremely nice to work with – a $5 cab ride from anywhere in Marathon, an SVRS station, no wait and genuinely nice people!