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Puerto Rico entry, charter rules nuanced, involve paperwork

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Welcome to the first installment of The Agent’s Corner. Local knowledge is invaluable when running a yacht, but finding the correct local knowledge is not always easy. With The Agent’s Corner, I will present information from yacht agents around the globe. The information presented will range from entry and clearance details to fishing and diving regulations, to the best places for local flavor. Captains and crew are welcome to write in with cruising questions, and I will find an answer.

This month’s column topic was sparked by a captain who asked if he could stop in Puerto Rico on his way from Cuba and the Dominican Republic to St. Barts with charter guests. My colleague Paul Colgan from Perez Y Cia in San Juan presented the question to officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in San Juan. This is their response.

For vessels operating under a commercial registry:

* Can we drop off a charter in Puerto Rico? Yes, but the vessel must report its entry as a charter, and all the paperwork for commercial vessels is submitted to CBP Carrier Control. The yacht must use a bonded ship’s agent when entering on a commercial registry.

* Can we pick up a charter in Puerto Rico? Yes, but the vessel must have reported its entry as a commercial vessel coming to pick up or wait for passengers, and all the paperwork for commercial vessels was submitted to CBP Carrier Control.

Passengers must have B2 visas. Crew can have either the B1 or a C1/D visa.

* Can we pass through from one country to the next, under charter, stopping in Puerto Rico? Yes. Documentary requirements for passengers and crew on board commercials vessels will apply.

* If we are allowed to “pass through”, is there a limit to our stay in terms of number of locations or days? No, there is no limit on the days the charter vessel can stay in Puerto Rico, but passengers will be inspected by CBP upon arrival and, if admitted into the United States, a period of authorized stay will be granted based on the travel documents presented.

Crew members traveling with C1/D visa can only be granted landing permit for 29 days. Contract or agreement between the marina and the vessel will factor in the amount of days spent in the U.S.

Vessel processing will depend on the function (private/commercial) of the vessel upon arrival. For example, if a private vessel is arriving from a foreign country or the U.S. Virgin Islands (considered a foreign territory under 19 CFR) then the captain is required to contact the Private Vessel Query & Targeting Team (PVQTT) by phone at 787-729-6840 or 1 877-529-6840 to report the arrival to Puerto Rico. The PVQTT is staffed seven days a week from 0800-2400 hrs.

Captains and owners of private vessels are encouraged to leave a message on the answering machine and the officer will contact them after 0800 hrs.

Foreign-flagged private vessels can obtain a cruising license with a validity of a year after the master completes an interview with CBP. The cruising license is not mandatory but will help to expedite vessel processing. The master will report to CBP the entry and exit of the vessel from the U.S. and will not have to pay the clearance fee.

To obtain a new cruising license after its expiration, the vessel has to depart to foreign for at least 15 days and, upon return, request the cruising license.

Ports of entry are: San Juan, Fajardo, Mayaguez, Ponce.

Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, most rules that apply to the continental U.S. apply to Puerto Rico. Occasionally, there are some variations in how the rules are interpreted, and free trade zones or duty-free ports can make a difference.

Capt. Deb Radtke owns American Yacht Agents in Ft. Lauderdale (www.americanyachtagents.net). After 16 years working on yachts, she found her niche shoreside assisting vessels visiting the U.S. East Coast and Great Lakes. Comments are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.

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