4 Ways of Checking in For Cruisers

Dominican Republic

Checking in for cruisers is a different experience than when you fly into a country. Every country is different. Every check in has been different too. So far, we have sailed to 4 different countries and had 4 completely varied experiences checking in.

Often when we arrive in port, we are led around like dazed children, not knowing where to go next or what to do. The basics are the same: have passports and boat ownership papers on hand. And money, or credit card.

It’s all been good – we’ve ultimately gotten in everywhere – and we’ll continue to jump through the hoops for the pleasure of visiting these intriguing new places.

Checking In – The Bahamas

Bahamas was the first country we visited on Sava. We checked in in Bimini, along with lots of others who arrived from Florida.

When we arrived at the marina in Bimini, the dockmaster gave us the paperwork to fill in and directed us to the customs office, about a half-mile down the road.

rules in the bahamas

In Bahamas, only the captain is required to visit immigration and customs. You visit customs first, where the room is quite small, and there can be a line of (usually) men waiting there, so to add the owners and crew of the boats would overcrowd the place. While Brian went inside and checked in, I sat outside on a bench and talked to other families waiting for their captains. I could have waited on the boat, but wanted to see everything for myself.

Brian liked checking in at the office in Bimini. Each boater went one at a time, and as part of the interview, all were asked the value of their boat. One, a superfast power boat, was +750K US! It took the guy less than an hour from Miami. You may recall we were not so fast.


Bahamas stands out because there is a hefty fee for boaters: $300 for the visa, which includes a fishing permit. This visa last for 3 months. Many cruisers come from the U.S. and stay in Bahamas for 3 months every winter, so when you look at that, it’s a small price to pay for a 3 month rental.

Cruiser Check In Turks and Caicos

When you arrive in Turks and Caicos via boat, it’s recommended that you call the customs officials on your VHF at about 5 miles out from land. We did so the night we arrived, and told them we would be checking in the next morning when we got to our marina. It was too late to navigate to the marina at dark, so we anchored. You don’t want to be found anchored out without connecting with the government.

rules in turks and caicos

After we secured Sava to the dock at Turtle Cove Marina, the dockmaster directed us to wait on the boat until the customs official arrived. The customs official roams the island, visiting marinas, and it was a Saturday, so we waited on the boat.

We waited on the boat for customs for about 3 hours. We chatted with people on the boats on either side of us, cleaned up, ate lunch, and waited. When we were summoned to the dockmaster’s office, it was our first time on land since leaving Bahamas.

The check-in in Turks and Caicos was comparatively relaxed. The customs agent asked us a few questions and we filled out some forms. He asked if we had a pet, and we told him about Domino, and he said maybe someone from agriculture would visit the boat. We were there for a week and no one did.

fees in turks and caicos

We did have to pay some fees because it was Saturday and the customs and immigration agents worked overtime. Altogether, it was less than $100 for the check-in. They do have a visa if you stay over a week, but even though we told them we would stay for more than 7 days, they dismissed it and didn’t want to charge us. Even when we checked out a few weeks later, no one charged us for 7 days.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is where the whole process got interesting. Or convoluted. This is because checking in – and out – involves multiple offices and carbon copies.


In the Dominican Republic, you need to check in – and out – of every port you visit. You need to get a “despacho” at every stop, and surrender it at the next stop for a new one from the new place.

We were in Luperón for 5 days. We had to check in to 4 different offices on the day we arrived, and return to check out the night before we left. It was time consuming and there was a lot of needless paperwork. We even had to go to the navy office.

Luperon commandante office
The commandante’s office in Luperon

The day we checked out of Luperon, we were at the navy office for an hour so the young trainee could fill out our paperwork extremely slowly, and incorrectly. Bureaucracy at it’s finest.

In the marina at Samaná, we went through the rigamarole again and wasted lots of carbon paper. Brian commented that the D.R. must be the biggest market for carbon paper. Haven’t seen any back home in decades. Have you?

Puerto Rico

You can check in at the Puerto Reál marina virtually. Since Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., they use a website and app called ROAM. The government offices aren’t in Puerto Reál, so we were lucky to be able to check in this way. It wasn’t perfect; we had to pay a fee, log on to a few websites, and talk to an official on the phone before we completed the process. Fortunately, José, the harbormaster in Puerto Reál, went above and beyond for us: he loaned us his phone AND his tablet to connect with the government. 

Puerto Rico coast guard and police have a strong presence along the coast. We’ve seen helicopters hovering over pleasure vessels, and police boats in almost every harbor we’ve visited. 

We love visiting each new country! Even when it’s a hassle, we like checking in, and even more, exploring. We like to finish with a toast over a local beer.

Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

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