Passport for Sailing: Customs and Immigration

If you plan to leave your country, you can’t just enter another country without knowing the local laws, customs, entry and exit requirements, even you must be healthy enough to enter another country and there are other details too to decide whether travelling to some other country is the right choice for you.

This article discusses some essential procedures you must follow while sailing and landing in another country, international waters, and the country’s power over that.

Maritime Boundaries and Country’s Power over that:

A country with a coastline is entitled to a portion of the ocean, the extension of territory that goes beyond the land into the water. Inside this portion of the ocean, the country has ownership and jurisdiction. However, the reach of the country’s control is limited; the vast majority of the ocean belongs to no one, and it is called international waters, also known as high-seas.

These areas exist under the MARE LIBERUM concept in which sea zones where all countries have the right to move through, fish, navigate, fly over, lay cables, pipelines as well as can conduct scientific research, but none of them has the right to control it. 

The above is the picture that depicts the gigantic borders. The area marked with dark blue is the country’s exclusive zones, and the light blue majority of the ocean is high-seas. 

Within the country’s water, the territory is divided into two areas 

The territorial water, which is immediately adjacent to the land, and 

The exclusive economic zone.

The territorial water is coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles, which equals twenty-two point two kilometres, and belongs entirely to that country, where external ships and airplanes are forbidden to pass through without permission of the owner country.

However, countries can claim their exclusive economic zone, extending from the coast to a maximum of 200 nautical miles, around 370 kilometres. So, the particular country has access to all financial resources in that area like fishing, mining oil, exploration, etc. however they can’t prohibit other countries from passing through it.

However, this doesn’t mean you can do anything you want in these waters. To be there, you have to be on a ship. A ship must usually sail under the flag of a country, so while in international waters, the jurisdiction of a set country applies to that ship. Any country can enact the law and persecute in international waters according to the rules of universal jurisdiction if there are, for instance, pirating or criminal incidents.

When you sail around the world, you must formally enter and exit every country.

Flags and their importance:

When you arrive at a port, usually what happens is you put up your yellow flag, i.e., the quarantine flag. You don’t get off the boat unless you’ve been told it’s okay. Then Quarantine will come on the boat, and they will look for plants, seeds, diseases, those kinds of things usually, it’s just they want a bit of money, and then you want to go to shore. Sometimes customs come to you. If not, you must go to customs and hunt them down; the same goes for immigration.

We need to go through Quarantine when arriving at a country’s territorial water and remain quarantined until we complete customs and immigration, so we need to host a yellow q flag, a quarantine flag. We take down our country flag and put up the quarantine flag so that the current country knows we should be doing customs and clearance when we enter their waters.

Let’s talk about the maritime navigational flags and its purpose in detail here,

Arriving in a country, what you need to know:

Understand the requirements of that country; it’s important to make sure you know all those formalities.

So go to websites like or other cruisers forums to find out the requirements of every country. Certain requirements are identical; you must have your ship’s registration document if you’re driving by boat. And you need to fly a Q flag as you enter teritorial waters, tie up in a marina, or anchor; you need to fly that Q flag until you have been successfully cleared into whatever country you’re in.  

It is also important here that you respect the rules of that country there are stories all over the internet about skippers and sailors that are still flying their Q flags. This is because they hadn’t cleared in properly or because it was too late, or they were too tired, went ashore to eat, or carried out commerce in that country, and were caught and fined horrendously. The fines can be eye-watering, so please ensure that you abide by that country’s rules and check in before you step off the boat when you enter into a country.

Customs and Immigration:

For a lot of countries, you can enter a port at a specific port of entry, tie your boat up in a marina, and customs and immigration will come to you. In other countries, you can anchor and then go into specific customs and immigration offices. So it tends to be that where we were cruising. So they’re normally kept relatively close together, like the customs, immigration, and Port Authority building to check in.

Some other countries will want you to dock and check in, and the reason for that is that they sometimes want to board your boat. And if they want to board your boat with or without dogs sniffing, they need you to be tied up to a dock, so the first thing you do once you’ve tied up, you go straight to the customs and immigration office, you do not go anywhere else, and you go in with your papers. 

It is for most countries you go in as a skipper alone. You don’t take your crew with you, but in some countries they want all crew members, so you must know in advance if they want all the crew or the skipper to go aboard. So again, make sure you know that requirement before getting off the boat.

Another thing is always taking a pen with you. They tend not to have that many pens, and some ports can be really busy, so taking a pen and book with you is safe.

 We have found that you must be super polite and well dressed. I’m not mean you don’t need to turn up in a business suit. Still, you turn up in clean clothes, you turn up with shoes on, or you turn up with a clean pair of shorts. You do not turn up in bathing shorts and vests, we have seen sailors turned away for inappropriate attire, and different islands will require a different level of kind of courtesy. As you enter them, we always err to the side of caution. After all, these are government organizations, and we treat them with due respect.

Passport and its Use:

Your passport is a valid entry and exit I.D. Other countries also recognize and can stamp upon entry and sometimes upon exit.

When you leave a country, you must go to customs immigration to check out the country. They stamp the exit on your passport, and then the customs usually give you a clearance form, meaning you can leave the country and go into the next. It means that you haven’t incurred any weird debts or done anything illegal in the current country, so you are leaving a clean way. These are really important out here. Most countries require you to have this from the previous country you visited. Otherwise, they will send you back.

Documents you need to carry for customs and immigration:

Passport as mentioned 

You have to research before arriving in the country to make sure whether you need a visa for that country.

International boat registration and every boat have this document, so basically, it just says the details of your boat, including the tonnage, the net tonnage, the gross tonnage, and the length. Among that, your registration number is really important.

If you are entering a marina, you will need your insurance documents,

Passports and boat papers are the papers that you need to provide for customs and immigration. 

Most countries require advance notice of arrival, an ANA often, and they want you to print that out and have a copy as well. This is usually via email, and you send this out a minimum of 48 hours before you arrive, stating your boat, the color, the size, the crew, the names of the crew, and when you plan to arrive and where.

You can get fined or turned away if you don’t do that.

Typically what you do is, Quarantine first, then you do immigration, And then you do customs.


Costs vary from island to island or from country to country. Some countries have been easy to get into, and some need a little more work. So I’ll start with some of the easiest countries or the islands of entire Europe and the entire Schengen zone as well,

You check in once if you have a European boat in all European countries and islands. For American or non-EU flag boats, check into the first country you visit, probably you may reach azores, Azores is the part of Portugal or France. Then you’re free to travel. You don’t need check in anywhere else. The costs to check into the eurozone are zero. Although the port or the marina may levy a small charge on you, the additional charges for checking into a country may come from the Port Authority.

Checking into the U.S. was probably one of the most difficult. They have a strict homeland security policy. You need to radio in advance, and you need to tell them exactly what port you are in; you need to talk in a marina that Homeland Security approves, so check in advance check the state that you’re going into. They all have different requirements so phone ahead again they tell us exactly where to go.

The most expensive place for checking in is the Bahamas. The Bahamas have a policy where you get a year’s cruising permit, including a fishing permit. You pay for the people on board overall, and it’s a round fee of 350 US dollars that’s you think it’s quite expensive, but really once you get in there, you go a year cruising for 350 dollars, so it’s important to understand that you have to pay for one year in advance and you can’t pay any less.

In addition, many of the island’s customs and immigration won’t take credit cards. The Bahamas have only recently started taking credit cards in certain places, so arrive with cash so that if you’re coming from the States, they will take U.S. dollars. You’ve got enough cash to pay upfront;


It’s very easy to travel around the world, it’s not difficult to check in and out of ports, the costs aren’t particularly high, and it shouldn’t be a barrier in any way to you travelling around and enjoying.

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