U.S. Customs - Entry Tips

U.S. Customs –
Making the Process a Little Easier

Get the ROAM Application

The above is probably the best advice that I can offer if you are looking to make your interaction with U.S. Customs simply a routine ending to your trip when returning from foreign shores.

So, what is ROAM exactly? The CBP ROAM app (Reporting Offsite Arrival - Mobile) is a free mobile application that provides an option for pleasure boaters to report their U.S. entry to U.S. Customs via their personal smart device or tablet in order to satisfy the face to face reporting requirement when returning to the U.S. from foreign countries.

It serves as an Alternative Inspection System (AIS) and the best part, it is free and reasonably easy to setup. The ROAM app can be downloaded from either the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store directly to your smart device. You need to remember that when using ROAM or any other Alternative Inspection System, you may still be required to report to a staffed location for a face to face interview and inspection.

So What Else Can You Do?

A little advance planning and preparation here will go a long way in making the entry procedure a little less painful. Another thing that you should try to do whenever possible is to provide Customs with an "Advance Notification of Arrival." An hour’s heads-up to CBP is helpful; (2) hours notice is better when possible.

So, before actually contacting U.S. Customs or docking at your first U.S. Port, there are a number of things that you can do to make the entry process go a little smoother. The one thing that you want to avoid is "not having all your duckies in a row when contacting and notifying U.S. Customs of your arrival or when the CBP inspector arrives on the dock."

And speaking of arriving at the dock - when you do arrive and the Customs Inspector is standing there tapping his toes on the deck boards and looking at his watch, you can pretty much figure that things have not gotten off to a good start.

Prior to Arrival

While the timing can be adjusted for your particular circumstances, your preparations should be done a reasonable time in advance to reduce any possible delays.

Well Offshore or ≈12 to 15 Hours Prior to Your Arrival:

Collect the following information (I generally just make a list of the information) so that you will have it available to you when you make your first call to Customs (Advance Notice of Arrival):

  1. Documentation... Get all of your vessel’s documents together in a central location. This really should be the case all the time, but in the event that your recordkeeping skills are like mine and need a little work, you should get this done early on.
    1. Vessel’s Documentation or State Registration papers.
    2. Clearance Document from your last foreign port of call.
    3. Letter of authority from the owner (if it is not your vessel.)
    4. Bill of sale and customs paperwork if importing the vessel into the U.S.
  2. Passports... At an absolute minimum, YOU should visually sight every crewmember/passenger’s passport. This will prevent the invariable panic search of the boat by your crew/passenger’s while the Customs Officer stands around and waits (somewhat unhappily, I may add).
  3. Agricultural Products... The rules on agricultural products are complicated, but agricultural products generally have to be declared. Fruits, vegetables, and plants will generally require inspection and may or may not be allowed to be imported into the U.S. If you are looking for your entry to be painless, you might want to consider eating or disposing of this stuff well offshore.
  4. Items to Declare... Another somewhat complicated area. The best rule-of-thumb: If you acquired it outside of the United States it must be declared to U.S. Customs. If you would like a little more detail you can check our Declarable Items Page.
Prior to Arrival
≈ 2 to 3 hours prior to your arrival:

Collect the following information (I generally just make a list of the information) so that you will have it available to you when you make your first call to Customs (Advance Notice of Arrival):

  1. Name of Vessel
  2. Documentation / Registration Number
  3. LOA
  4. Flag
  5. Homeport
  6. Your last port of call
  7. Your current location
  8. Your planed Port of Entry
  9. Your arrival Time
  10. User Fee Decal information (or that you will need one)
  11. Return call contact phone number
  12. Full name, DOB, citizenship, U.S. address, and passport number of all persons on board
  13. If you plan on bringing in plants and foodstuffs, know what you have.
  14. Know whether or not you or any passenger or crew have anything that is required to be declared.
  15. Have pen and paper at hand if you have to take notes.

The above information is pretty much all they require at this point. However, they may ask other questions if any unusual circumstances are noted.

Prior to Arrival
≈ 1 to 2 hours prior to your arrival:

Now that you have all the above information readily at hand:

Depending on your particular circumstance, they may provide you with Formal Entry over the phone (rare, but it does happen). If this happens, be sure to note the Customs Officer’s name, and the entry number he will provide you. Putting this into your vessel’s log book will ensure that it is not misplaced should you be questioned later.

On Dockside Arrival

On Arrival - No crew, passenger, cargo, or personal effects are to be landed until Customs has completed their inspection. The master may leave the vessel only to report to Customs if required.

With any luck the Customs Inspector will be standing on the dock when you arrive.

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