Guest Post: Tips for Clearing into a Foreign Port

This week, our guest blogger Behan of the popular blog Sailing Totem shares useful information for those sailing to foreign lands. What’s the process for clearing into a foreign port? What documents do you need? How can you make it a smooth and easy process? These questions and more will be answered in this chapter of our guest blogger series. Read on and get more great tips on our blog for your upcoming sailing holiday with Zizoo

Clearing into a foreign port

Your flight lands, and after a few lines, some kiosks, and a passport stamp- voila, you’ve cleared into a new country! It’s a little more complicated when you arrive on a private boat, but easy to tackle once you understand the basics. Here’s a simple outline to follow, and a few tips to make formalities a snap.

clearing into a foreign port

1. Research first

Get informed about a country’s specific requirements in advance to avoid disappointment. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Which ports welcome international entry
  • Visa requirements and limits
  • Customs regulations (allowances for alcohol, for example)
  • Quarantine regulations: some countries are strict about what you can and cannot bring in
  • Any other regulations for yachts, such as cruising permits, bond, and advance notification of

Most countries have information readily available online, in English. is also a good place to find country formalities information.

2. Organize paperwork

Prepare a folder of the documents you’ll need to complete clearance. A waterproof folio is a good idea to keep papers dry when going to shore. Here’s what to include:

  • Crew list (document with the name, age, nationality, and passport number for each person)
  • Crew passports
  • Original (and copies) of your boat’s registration
  • Port and customs clearance papers from prior port

Also sometimes requested:

  • Photocopies of the skipper’s passport photo/signature page
  • A copy of your boat’s insurance
  • Spare passport photos

Throw a pen or two in the folio, because you’ll have forms to complete and officials don’t always have a pen ready for you.

clearing into a foreign port

3. Upon arrival

Hoist the yellow “Q” flag to the starboard spreader when you cross into territorial waters of a new country. From there, the elements of clearing differ from one country or port to the next. Typically, the officials involved are:

  1. Harbormaster or Port Captain – contact via VHF radio upon approach.
  2. Port authorities
  3. Immigration
  4. Customs
  5. Quarantine (many countries skip this step or blend it with customs, but it’s critical for a few)

clearing into a foreign port

In some countries, officials will come to your boat and complete all formalities on board. In others, it is as simple as visiting a single office. And some countries have different offices, spread around town, for each part of the clearance. You might be finished in an hour, or it might take a few days. If you’re unsure about the steps for clearance, ask the Port Captain when you first arrive.

4. Tips to smooth the process

Two easy ways to streamline clearance: first, you can hire an agent to manage the process. This is rarely necessary, and adds expense, but may be beneficial if a country’s clearance is cumbersome. In rare situations, an agent is required. Second, just be nice! Treat officials with respect, and remember you’re a guest in their country. Sometimes cruisers enter a country with attitude because they heard that clearance can be tough there. The attitude will only make it more difficult. Showing courtesy and respect may lead to a local friend or just an easier clearance. If the local language is unfamiliar, simply learning to say “hello” and “thank you” can make a difference.

clearing into a foreign port

When clearance is complete, remove the “Q” flag and hoist the courtesy flag if you have one (it’s not required in most countries, but it is a courtesy), and treat yourself to a well-deserved sundowner while appreciating your new surroundings.

The author and her family have completed clearance in dozens of countries while sailing their boat, Totem, around the world.

You can get more insider tips on sailing on our blog where you will learn how to choose a marina, our top 10 boat safety tips and find a list of helpful websites for beginner sailors. You can also make sailing to foreign lands a breeze by renting one of our boats in your chosen location. We offer over 5,000 boats in 30 countries around the world.