Importing Parts and Packages in Paradise
by Steve Siguaw
Your beautiful sailboat or motoryacht is peacefully anchored off a spectacular remote beach, somewhere in paradise. “Ah, the cruising life doesn’t get better than this,” you quietly say to yourself.
Suddenly there is a strange noise coming from the electrical panel. “Low Power,” the alarm flashes. What is that?
Or you try to bring up your anchor on the day of departure from that tranquil anchorage and the windlass refuses to spin. Oh, my!
And yet another problem: maybe the trusty chart plotter decides to display the dreaded, “No GPS Fix”. You’re kidding, right?
Life aboard in the tropics isn’t all rum punches, beautiful sandy beaches, scantily clad sailors, calm anchorages and friendly locals.
No, the cruising life is also about fixing many, many things on a boat, nearly all the time, as we know.
Trips to Budget Marine, Island Water World, West Marine and all of the various other chandleries and parts stores up and down the islands usually help fix any problems that occur. Well, usually.
Out-of-stock parts usually have to be shipped and brought in, with associated Customs fees and broker charges, to many islands.
If we cannot find what we need locally, or for at a reasonable price as back home, what can we do?
Of course: just order the part online or with an international phone call and have everything shipped to wherever we happen to be.
It sounds easy — but there are tricks to having parts, goods or items shipped directly to your “yacht in transit”. I love the term “yacht in transit”, but it sometimes doesn’t apply when Customs gets involved.
How do you go about having items sent to you or your vessel in these exotic locales?
In which islands is it friendlier and cheaper to do so, you might also ask?
Well, rules on every island change like our winds down in these little latitudes, so what is true today might change dramatically tomorrow. It pays to ask your fellow cruisers what Customs did this week, as opposed to last year or several years ago.
Note: The yacht-in-transit importation allowances are primarily designed for parts, not for all “goods” or “items” being brought in for a yacht, so, for example, a TV set may be taxable if the Customs attending officer does not consider it to be an actual part of the yacht. Things like compasses, winches, sails, etcetera will always be considered a part for a yacht.
Here are some methods that have been proven to work and are according to current rules for the most popular cruiser destinations. These tips relate to either flying into the country or having things shipped directly to you, starting with the best places in the Eastern Caribbean:
Sint Maarten (only the Dutch side)
No Customs fees, no Customs duty, no taxes and extremely friendly. This is a duty-free island and parts/packages can be shipped in without any hassles via FedEx, DHL, ocean freight, etcetera. Simpson Bay is home to FedEx and DHL, while Tropical Shipping is located near Great Bay. Even the US Postal Service (USPS) will ship here, using their choice of carrier. Parts brought in by air, as luggage, are also duty free, so pack those extra bags and bring them with you on the plane. By far, Sint Maarten is THE best place to have things shipped to. Just allow adequate time for your package to arrive, as with anywhere in the islands.
United States Virgin Islands (USVI)
No Customs fees, no Customs duty, no taxes and another great place to have anything and everything sent to you or your vessel. The USPS General Delivery will hold packages for you for a maximum of seven days, or so they say. Sometimes it is 30 days but you never know. Just give your shipment the address of the closest St. Thomas post office and boom, your package is yours for the taking. If you don’t trust the USPS there are mailbox businesses at Crown Bay and Red Hook, where you merely pay for an address (US$30 per month) and receive the package from USPS, FedEx, DHL, UPS, et al, with no problems. As with Sint Maarten, bags you bring with you on the plane are never taxed. Ocean freight (Crowley or Tropical) can also be used for shipments of parts/packages and you will most likely need to contact St. Thomas Cargo, on the hill between Crown Bay Marina and Sub Base to arrange to receive your items. A sign on the road shows the way to their office (just look up into the trees).
This used to be a great place to receive packages but, as stated before, things change. There is now an 11.5-percent tax on items shipped into Puerto Rico. Well, kind of. Packages can be sent directly to Puerto del Rey Marina and there are no Customs charges, for some odd reason. But if you use ocean freight (Crowley, Tropical, et al), be prepared to declare your items using an online registration system (easier if you know Spanish) and paying the 11.5-percent duty online before your goods are released to you. Receipts are required and attached to the online form to determine the 11.5-percent tax. However, if you fly into Puerto Rico there is no duty on anything you bring with you in your baggage. Nada.
Trinidad & Tobago
There is no tax (VAT) on parts brought into the country for a “yacht in transit”. When arriving by air you declare what parts you are bringing to your vessel while at the airport, and then you are required to proceed immediately to Customs in Chaguaramas and review the parts you are bringing onto your boat with Customs. Parts shipped into Trinidad by the main courier services go to Customs in Chaguaramas and you must appear personally at Customs with your boat papers to claim the items without paying any taxes, VAT or duty. Just plan on extra time to receive any parts if a carrier sends them to Trinidad.
British Virgin Islands (BVI)
It used to be easy to bring parts into the country without payment of duty as a “yacht in transit”. But things have changed and are still in an incredible state of flux. We were charged duty on parts brought in by ourselves on a ferry, of all things. But another couple with us wasn’t charged anything for their parts. The BVI are sporadically enforcing regulations that have been on the books for several years. So it would be prudent to plan on paying duty on parts sent to the BVI or brought in by you, whether on a plane or ferry.
Antigua & Barbuda
There is no tax, VAT or duty for “yacht in transit”. The Antigua Sailing Week website (www.sailingweek.com/v4/island-guide/first-timers-guide) states: “goods and services for genuine yachts in transit will be free of all taxes and duties including fuel and provisioning to be used by charter guests. Support containers are considered a temporary import and will be free of all duties and taxes subject to the contents being re-exported and any spares consumed being shown to have been used in the maintenance of the yacht.” Antigua is another friendly and easy island to have parts brought in or shipped in without paying duty, VAT or taxes.
An agent is required to receive any parts/packages from outside the country. Ordering from Island Water World at Rodney Bay is the preferred method because they know the routine and will arrange everything, including the agent’s fee. Ocean freight can also be used for larger items but fees are paid on anything you bring to your “yacht in transit”. Customs is very strict about any parts being brought directly to your vessel as well. I even had a Customs officer follow me back to my boat as I wheeled a new transmission down the dock in Rodney Bay Marina. The Customs man left only after I managed to heave the heavy package onboard my boat and not drop it into the water.
This popular Caribbean sailing destination is a true can of worms, so to speak, as far as importing items for visiting yachts. It seems as though Customs officers at the airport operate as they feel on any given day. Sometimes you are charged over 20-percent duty on parts or equipment (even if you have the correct C-14 form); occasionally you are charged over 50-percent duty on “environmentally sensitive” items, such as a portable vacuum cleaner (a true story). If you are lucky enough to have a correctly filled out C-14 form with backup receipts and this paperwork is accepted by Customs, a charge of two-percent duty is made on the spot; Customs may also require you to leave your packages/parts at the airport and hire an agent to appear at the airport the next day with a correct C-14 form to retrieve all items and deliver them to you (of course you pay the agent a fee that varies as well. All in all, Grenada is not the best place to bring in boat parts if you expect things to work smoothly.
The chandleries and boat stores in the Caribbean are very good at stocking necessary boat parts and ordering nearly everything else you require to keep your vessel working as well as can be expected in these tropical waters.
If you still wish to source boat parts and goods from far away, the choices reviewed above will help keep you sailing and motoring toward distant destinations in the pursuit of that tropical paradise we all enjoy.
Steve Siguaw and his wife, Maria, sail the Caribbean aboard S/V Aspen, usually in search of a tranquil anchorage and boat parts
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