Pilots caught off guard by new Bahamas customs fee

July 2, 2013

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story referred to an apparent new outward declaration processing fee. There is no new outbound processing fee, although the $25-per-passenger departure tax remains in place.

General aviation pilots landing or taking off from the Bahamas since July 1 have been surprised to learn they must pay new customs processing fees.

A new fee for customs services is a $50 charge for processing an inward declaration and a cruising permit for private aircraft entering the Bahamas.

The new fees, which raise the cost of a trip to the Bahamas beyond an existing $25-per-person passenger tax, went into effect with no advance notice and caught the tourism industry and fixed-base operators off guard, said Rick Gardner of Caribbean Sky Tours, AOPA’s authorized representative for the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.

Since July 1, Gardner’s office has been fielding phone calls and emails from dismayed pilots who had been informed that they owed the charges. In a telephone interview, Gardner said he had just heard from a member of a group of 16 single-engine aircraft on a mission trip to Haiti who were charged the fee upon making a refueling stop. The group vowed not to refuel in the Bahamas on their return flight, Gardner said.

“It’s not the amount, it’s how they did it,” Gardner said, expressing disappointment at a lack of outreach to the general aviation community by the government of the Bahamas, a popular vacation destination for pilots.

“They played with the goose that lays the golden eggs,” he said.