Visa Implications of Caribbean Dockwalking

17 November 2009 By Louisa Cowan

We are on the cusp of changing seasons and yachts are heading south. Dockwalkers who haven’t picked up their perfect job in the Med or at the recent Fort Lauderdale boat show are flying to the Caribbean to try their luck there, but what are the visa implications of their job hunt?

Antigua and St. Maarten are both yachting hot spots, but when it comes to looking for yacht jobs local authorities are cracking down on the everyday dockwalker. You have to be prepared if you want to even get close to the docks when you arrive.

Jane Midson from Jane’s Yacht Services, Antigua says, “Crew are legal if they sail in on a yacht because they are signed on to the crew list but coming in by plane and looking for work is much more difficult legally.”

If you are not a resident of Antigua or an Antiguan citizen then you are required, legally, to have a work permit when looking for employment in the country, even on yachts. However, the government has improved the system; now applying for a work permit is a much quicker process. Short-term permits are available but you have to be a bit more organized than perhaps you originally thought. Jane goes on to say, “It is not difficult to get a work permit as self-employed tradesman, it just takes a bit of time.”

The main thing is to make sure you have your paperwork in order before you leave home. A police record is required as well as a valid passport – must be at least six months prior to expiration.

In Antigua, it’s not just the authorities, but also the marinas that are trying to tighten up the rules for the everyday dockwalker. To gain access to the docks, you WILL need a dockworkers identity card, which is only issued once a valid work permit has been seen. The Antigua & Barbuda Marine Association (ABMA) website states, “The Antigua & Barbuda Marine Association offers identity cards to marine workers who are legally allowed to be employed in Antigua & Barbuda. Any person seeking employment without a current identity card will be refused entry to the docks.” For more information, go to

One dockwalker, who would prefer to remain anonymous, says, “If you mention work when you arrive in Antigua, there is a chance that you won’t even make it out of the airport. Everyone tends to come in on a tourist visa and then they might go and get a freelancers work permit. The docks are pretty strict, certainly Falmouth Harbour Marina [is], but it is easier to get onto the Yacht Club Marina docks without an ID card.”

With St. Maarten, it seems harder still to dockwalk legally. Certainly, when flying into the country if you state that you will be looking for work you will not be granted entry and to gain entry as a tourist, you must have a return ticket. There are several stories of crew being detained at the airport because they didn’t have the correct paperwork.

If you enter the country as a tourist and then search for yacht jobs, you will be working illegally.

One St. Maarten agent said, “You can’t apply for a work permit to seek work in St. Maarten; however, on the French side of the island EU citizens can come and go as they like and look for work freely. For all other nationalities though, it is illegal without a working visa and this is almost impossible for a dockwalker to get.” The agent goes on to say, “The other issue with dockwalkers coming into St. Maarten now is that all passports are scanned. Immigration is definitely tightening up and getting stricter about letting potential workers into the country.”

St. Thomas is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands operating under U.S. law; this means that non-U.S. citizens need a B1/B2 visa to legally work on a yacht. Entering St. Thomas as a dockwalker, you are likely to come in on the B2 part of your visa, which clearly states that you are entering for pleasure purposes only and would mean that any work undertaken would be illegal.

Don’t forget that flying into any Caribbean country to join a boat on which you have already been offered a job is perfectly legal, as long as you have the correct boat papers. However, if you are determined to try your chances on the docks, please be aware that it may not be as easy as it seems. Go with your eyes open and assess the risks you are prepared to take. Fines and deportation could end up being quite costly.