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Rules of the Road: Relief supplies duty-free with condition

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Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers

The devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian left many islands in the northern Bahamas obliterated. After successive days of extreme winds and ocean surge, much of the area is now unrecognizable.  

The yachting community immediately stepped up to the challenge. Through organizations such as YachtAid Global and Allen Exploration, and through the efforts of dozens of private individuals, the pipeline of relief stretched from Florida across the Gulf Stream.  

In the coming months, the demand will switch from responding to rebuilding. As part of that effort, the Bahamian government recognized a need to expedite relief supplies. Under an exigency order, hurricane relief supplies can be imported into the Bahamas duty-free and VAT-free. However, certain conditions, as outlined in the order, must be met. 

Importers must complete a simple, one-page application form in order to benefit from these tax reliefs. The Bahamas customs clearance process has also been simplified. It will facilitate the smooth release of hurricane relief supplies. There are three steps.

1. Complete an exigency order form. Customs forms can be downloaded online or requested in person at customs. There are two forms to choose from: Form A (Approved Goods) and Form B (Other Items). Form A is used to import any items listed as “Approved Goods.” This form is processed and approved by customs at the border. For goods not included on the list, Form B is required to obtain Ministry of Finance approval.

2. Complete a relevant customs declaration form. There are several relevant forms for this step. The mode of delivery will determine which form is required. For goods arriving through a shipping company, freight forwarder, or courier service, Form C-13 for Air Cargo or Sea Cargo is needed. For those items being delivered by an individual on a commercial air carrier or on a private yacht, importers shall use Form C-17 Accompanied Goods. If items are arriving by private aircraft or charter plane, use Form C-18 for Unaccompanied Goods.

 3. Present documents to customs at port of entry  for on-site clearance and approval. The importer shall deliver the above forms to Bahamas Customs. The receiving inspector will then be responsible for reviewing and approving the documents at the port of entry. 

Individuals and businesses are eligible to import tax-free goods by way of the exigency order under the following conditions:

  • Imported goods fall under the approved list of items.
  • The final destination of the imported goods is to an approved island.
  • Imported goods will be used for charitable purposes to support restoration activities directly related to Hurricane Dorian, or by individuals who have directly suffered hardship or loss as a result of Hurricane Dorian.

The exigency order does not encompass all of the Bahamas. The final destination for all donated goods must be an approved island. Those islands are Abaco, Abaco Cays, Grand Bahama Islands, Sweetings Cay, Deep Water Cay, and Water Cay.

The exigency order also does not permit an unlimited number of goods to bypass the importation rules. The items must be specific to the relief and recovery efforts.  There is also a maximum time period permitted for certain items.

For the first 30 days of relief, only certain items could be imported tax-free under the terms of the exigency order.  They were bottled water, clothing, food for personal consumption, and personal hygiene products.

For 90 days from the date of the exigency order, the following items may be imported as tax-free goods:

  • Tents and cots.
  • Medicine and medical supplies.
  • Building materials.
  • Bedding materials.
  • Mosquito nettings.
  • Electrical and plumbing fixtures and materials.
  • Household furnishings and appliances.

Questions on specific items to be imported, specifically under the exigency order, can be addressed to various individuals assigned to the task.  Their contact info is listed at www.bahamascustoms.gov.bs.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (yachtbureau.org). Comments are welcome below.

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