Heading off to the Bahamas and want to know all the documents and other things you need to have?
Here’s my checklist . . . and at the bottom of the article, you’ll have the chance to get a copy as a PDF checklist that you can print out and/or keep on any electronic device.
NOTE: This list assumes a US boat, US citizens, coming from the US. There may be requirements that I don’t know about for other combinations.
- Passport for each person on board, valid at least 3 months beyond your expected stay in the Bahamas. Read complete requirements, including those for non-US citizens.
- Boat documents for the big boat and dinghy. Original of US Coast Guard documentation and/or state registration, valid throughout the entire period you expect to be in the Bahamas. It’s a good idea to have a couple of copies of each.
- Boat insurance documents. Some marinas may require proof of at least liability insurance. I can’t find that proof of insurance is required for entry into the Bahamas but it’s always a good idea to have it.
- Pet import permit. If you have a pet onboard, you need a permit. Read how to get it in this post and be sure to note the new address that is different from what is printed on the form. (You are still technically required to have a permit for pets – such as cats – that won’t leave the boat and one will definitely be required if you should have to fly out for any reason, such as an emergency at home or medical issue that can’t be treated in the Bahamas.)
- US Customs decal. Boats 30 feet or longer in length must pay an annual fee of $27.50 for a border crossing decal (also called a “user fee decal” by the government; cruisers just call it the “customs decal.”) You need the number from this on your return to the US (or US territory, such as Puerto Rico or the USVI). Get it online here. It must be renewed every year (no need to renew if you’re not out of the US). The sticker will be mailed to you, which can take some time. All you really need is the number, which will be emailed to you within a day or two of your online purchase.
- VHF/SSB license & MMSI number. You need a US license to operate (transmit) your VHF and SSB in the Bahamas. The MMSI number for your VHF – important for emergency transmissions – also needs to be an “international” number issued by the FCC. The MMSI numbers issued by BoatUS do not qualify; however, if you already have one from Boat US, it’s a real pain to switch – you generally have to send the radio back to the manufacturer. Get your US Ship’s Radio License and MMSI number here – information is on this page, with the links to forms about one-third of the way down the page. (It takes a while to get the paper licenses, but you can get the license number and other info online in just a couple of days; a printout of this is sufficient.)
- Ham radio. If you have a ham radio, you must receive a Bahamas reciprocal license to use your ham radio in the Bahamas (even for email). Allow at least 2 months for processing. Send a copy of your US license, copy of your birth certificate or passport photo page, $25 international money order and a letter requesting a reciprocal license to:
Public Utilities Commission
P.O. Box N.4860
It’s always best to send by FedEx, UPS or DHL. US Mail is extremely slow to reach the Bahamas. If your shipping company questions you, no, there are no ZIP codes or postal codes in the Bahamas.
- EPIRB. Make sure it’s registered and that the batteries test good. It won’t do you any good if it’s not registered. (This is a safety item, not a legal requirement.)
- Q Flag and Bahamas courtesy flag. You need a Q flag prior to checking in (read more about it here) and a Bahamian courtesy flag after. A Bahamian courtesy flag typically lasts 6 weeks to 2 months before it just fades out or becomes too tattered. It’s disrespectful to the Bahamians to fly one in poor condition. Take a sufficient number with you – they’re more expensive in the Bahamas and can be hard to find.
- Small Vessel Reporting System (aka Local Boater Option) registration (optional). Completing this means that when you return to the US (or enter a US territory such as Puerto Rico or the USVI), you can generally check in with a single phone call. Everyone on board has to be registered, you can schedule back-to-back appointments to register but everyone has to have their own appointment. Additionally, if you renew your passport, you have to update your registration in person (read more about updating upon passport renewal). Link to information on how to apply for SVRS and form.
- Bahamas check-in forms (optional). Downloading and printing your forms is a time-saver once you’re in the Bahamas, as sometimes you have to go to a different office to get them and sometimes you get charged for them (we anchored out off south Bimini for check-in and had to purchase the forms from a marina as the airport customs and immigration officer didn’t have them).
Each person aboard must complete an Immigration Arrival Card. It is not available online, but both it and the customs form can be obtained from The Bahamas Tourist Office in Plantation, Florida. Phone: 954-236-9292. They will mail the forms to you.
- Fishing. Your Bahamas cruising permit will include a fishing permit. Learn about bag limits, seasons and more here. Read about ciguatera, a nasty fish-borne illness, here or listen to a podcast about it here.
- Cell phone (optional). Your current phone may work in the Bahamas on a roaming plan – every plan is different and they change often, so I won’t discuss here. Check with your carrier. If you want to get a Bahamas SIM card (for BTC – Bahamas Telephone Company) before leaving the US, you can – this will give you data upon arrival in the Bahamas without the need to go anywhere or buy anything. Mr. Sim Card offers exceptional service. They can tell you if your phone will work with the Bahamian system and give exact details for how to activate your phone upon arrival in the Bahamas – I used them and was highly pleased. It costs a few dollars more than going to a BTC office once you’re in the Bahamas, but the convenience is well worth it. Note that once you’re in the Bahamas, you can top up your account online with a credit card; you do not have to go to an office or store and use cash to buy cards. If you buy your SIM card through Mr. Sim Card, you’ll purchase your initial airtime and/or data through them; subsequent topups can be done through the link below or by buying cards at Bahamian stores; there is no need to buy the more expensive ones through Mr. Sim Card.
NOTE: Legal requirements can always change and I make no guarantees about this list having absolutely everything. If you have any questions, double-check on Noonsite, although I do note a few things said there that are different from our experience (notably, the cruising permit fee was $150 for boats under 35 feet in 2016, not $300 as they state).