Day 5: 3 Keys On How To Not Have A Meltdown While Checking Into Customs In The Caribbean | Ashore On Dominica
How Not To Have A Meltdown While Checking Into Customs On Dominica
If you know anything about clearing customs in the Caribbean, I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories. Here’s my spin on how not to have a meltdown while trying to clear through customs and 3 tips on how to cooperate with Caribbean government officials in Dominica.
Day 5, Monday, March 26, 2018
First things first when touring a new island in the Caribbean: CUSTOMS.
You have to go into any Caribbean customs office with a sense of amusement, patience, quizzical awe. If you don’t come into these situations with a sense of humor, you will crumble. Everyone who’s checked through Caribbean customs is nodding their head with a little smirk on their face right now.
Checking Into The Customs House On Dominica
In the Customs house on Dominica, we stood in line next to a lovely French couple, the man with his glorious Snoopy Droopy eyelids, we discussed sailing itineraries and swapping tips, always a favorite moment. That sense of travel camaraderie. Salty sailors helping other salty sailors, giving tips around easy sails based on current wind conditions moving up or down island, places you don’t want to miss, great spots to see monkeys, the local 411.
Fill Out These Documents…Again.
When we finally made our way up to the counter, we had our fingers crossed we filled everything out in their French customs paperwork correctly (Thank God Danny knows a lick of French!), and upon inspecting our paperwork, we had to fill out one of the pages one more time. Then we made it back the counter, and we had to fill out that same page, one more time. Then back to the counter, and we had to fill out another page of it, two more times.
I know what you’re thinking: “Couldn’t they have asked you to fill out those 4 additional pages, all at the same time?” Ah, yes, but this is Caribbean customs. Fortresses of conditional, mood-based paperwork; devoid of all reason and logic the moment you step foot on these linoleum-floored kingdoms.
Checking Into Caribbean Customs: It’s Like The DMV…On Steroids
When it comes to checking into Customs in the Caribbean, take the DMV and multiply it by 2 (because the DMV is a little slice of hell on earth, so it’s not that much worse, honestly), and you’ve got yourself a Caribbean Customs house.
Key Things To Remember While Checking Into Customs In The Caribbean:
Be polite, don’t lose your temper.
The moment you lose your temper - your challenges will snowball. Caribbean customs officers - especially the ladies, love to see a white boy captain SQUIRM. And the stakes can be high- they can control or take over your travel itinerary in a second.
Our challenge was not having the physical bill of sale with us for delivering a purchased vessel. The authorities in Martinique gave us a clearing and gave us a particular document which should (keyword: should) be the equivalent of a bill of sale, allowing us to continue our trip up island. BUT! Enter the “conditional, mood-based” element of clearing through customs in different Caribbean countries; if the officer you’re interacting with had coffee spilled on their pants on the way to work, their child gave them hell that morning, whatever the reason - YOU, and your boat and travel plans, my dear, are the target of all their projections.
So you must: Keep cool, stay polite.
Always start whatever you’re going to say with “Good morning,” “Good day,” or “Good afternoon.”
I made the mistake one day running into a restaurant asking the West Indian bartender a question and I forgot to say “Good Day,” and she just kept saying to me, “GOOD DAY. GOOD DAY.” Until I realized she wouldn’t speak to me or answer my query until I correctly addressed her. Always start with a proper greeting of “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “Good night,” or if it’s in the middle of the day and you’re not sure if it’s before or after noon - you can be safe with a “Good day,” greeting.
Have All Your Documents Set Up, Ready For Battle BEFORE You’re At The Agent’s Desk While Checking Into Customs In The Caribbean.
If there’s a confusing scenario - like our Bill Of Sale equivalent - you must have ALL OF YOUR DOCUMENTATION ducks set up in a perfect, pristine row so you can demonstrate a logical, calm, valid case. Especially using things like, “The Martinique customs officer told us this would be completely adequate through the French Caribbean.” Use the whole “Well, mom said it was okay to spend the night at Pete’s house,” tactic, so that Caribbean customs house protocol is being compared to a familiar presence of a SIMILAR island.
After our three rewrites of the same documents, we were finally approved and ready to rock and roll. Titus picked us up and took us into town where we were passed off to our next guide: Slim, whom we affectionately refer to as “The Finger Nail Extraordinaire.”