Papers, Please — 2011-2012 Caribbean Immigration Rules

29 November 2011 By Rebecca Cahilly

Things have just gotten a little easier for yacht crew when it comes to visiting certain Caribbean islands. While immigration regulations remain strict the world over, these amendments will simplify the headache for captains and yacht agents — and just might entice owners and guests to try a once off-limit island this season.

Crewmembers hailing from various countries around the world, other than the Netherlands, have historically been required to produce a Netherlands Antilles visa when visiting the Dutch Antilles. However, for the past five years, agencies have been working with the local government to allow these crew easier access, and their efforts have finally paid off.

As of summer 2011, the islands of the Netherlands Antilles now accept anyone with a multi-entry U.S., Canadian or EU Schengen visa. This also applies to guests and non-yachting visitors and includes yachts mooring in Simpson Bay and Curaçao. Bona fide paid crew without visas who are on the visa required list can now enter on either an internationally recognized sailor’s log or a Seamen’s Discharge Book with a visa waiver letter from an authorized St. Maarten agent.

The visa waiver is limited to the paid crew of a yacht of at least 14.6 meters (48 feet) with paying passengers or owners on board for stays of up to 30 days at a time with a maximum total stay of 90 days. Guests without a visa also can receive 48 hours in transit with a letter from a local agent.

Cruising yachts with no paid crew are not eligible for this program and must have visas if they are nationals of the countries on the visa required list. (For a list of the nationalities requiring visas, visit

Similar visa waivers are now offered by some French Overseas Department islands as well. Martinique and Guadeloupe accept the EU Schengen visa for crew and guests on the visa required list for a long-term stay of over six months. Crew can now clear into St. Barth’s with their Seaman’s Discharge Book and passport.

St. Lucia also has eased its restrictions, and has waived the visa requirement for Russian and Australian nationals.

Kass Johnson, Vice President of the St. Maarten Marine Trades Association notes that this is significant progress for facilitating diverse yacht charter crew and opening the islands to more charter yachts. She cautions, however, that because Holland has not sent this information to the airlines, the waiver is currently only in effect for crew arriving with the vessel and guests arriving by private jet.

Do these regulations make it any easier for crew seeking work while in the Caribbean? Unfortunately not, as they only apply to crew with paid positions. And, generally speaking, many Caribbean islands and marinas are no longer as tolerant of dockwalking for work as they might have been historically.

Says Danny Donelan, Assistant Manager of Port Louis Marina in Grenada, “We do not allow anyone to walk the docks unless they have a reason to do so. This stops anyone trying to solicit work from the yachts while they are here.”

Rupert Connor of Luxury Yacht Group says he discourages yachties from dockwalking throughout the Caribbean in search of work. “Dockwalkers also risk jeopardizing their immigration status as a tourist if they seek employment, particularly ‘daywork,’ which undermines local workers.”

“Dockwalking, looking for work, is illegal and they have tightened up here,” says Johnson, who is based in St. Maarten. “Crew looking for freelance positions can not be signed back off the vessel without a ticket off the island. Many captains are not aware of this until they try to clear the freelance crewmember off their list at immigration.”