Winter escape! Island Retreat! Glorious vacation! I’m referring to the islands of the Bahamas—a popular aviation destination, and it’s easier to fly there to than you may realize. In addition to the clear turquoise waters and white sand, there’s a contest this year and next, sponsored by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and administered by PilotMall.com to encourage you to do some island hopping. Pilots who document landings at 12 of the 20 Bahamas airports of entry before Nov. 30, 2013, will be eligible to win free nights at resorts on various islands. Not sure what’s involved in flying across the border? Here’s a rundown of the requirements for a general aviation flight from the United States to the Bahamas.
- All travelers will need passports, and the pilot also needs a pilot certificate with an English-proficient endorsement, a current medical certificate, and a restricted radiotelephone operator’s permit.
- Your aircraft must have a standard airworthiness certificate, permanent registration certificate, radio station license, operating limitations, and weight and balance. If the aircraft is registered in a name other than your own, bring a notarized letter allowing use of the aircraft.
- eAPIS—CBP’s Electronic Advance Passenger Information System—has been required since May, 2009. You may be familiar with the old CBP Form 178, but it is no longer a valid form and is not required for arrival into the United Status. The Air Safety Institute has a free online tutorial: “Understanding eAPIS—A Pilot’s Guide to Online Customs Reporting” and some of the frequently asked questions are online. You can file both your outbound and inbound manifests at the same time before you depart the U.S.
- ICAO requires an approved life vest flotation device for each occupant for flights in the Bahamas, and it’s recommended that you also carry a life raft. All U.S. registered aircraft must have an ID data plate and 12-inch registration marks when flying in the ADIZ.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires a $27.50 annual user fee decal. Normally, private flights do not pre-clear with CBP; however, non-U.S. citizens may have pre-clearance requirements, so if this applies to you, be sure to contact the appropriate CBP office.
- You must be on an activated IFR or Defense VFR flight plan on departure for flying through the ADIZ, and your first landing in the Bahamas must be at a Customs airport of entry. Call the FBO or Customs to announce your planned arrival time.
- Flight plans are recommended for island flying, though you may need to open and close them from altitude if phones are not available. For island hopping flexibility, obtain a cruising permit at your airport of entry. VFR at night is prohibited except within the airport traffic areas of Freeport and Nassau.
- When it’s time to head home, you must return your immigration tourist card and cruising permit, as well as pay a $25 per passenger departure tax. U.S. CBP requires advance notice of arrival—no less than one hour and no more than 23 hours, and you will need to file a defense VFR or IFR flight plan and activate it. If you didn’t file an eAPIS manifest for your return trip to the U.S. before you left, you have to do that at least one hour before departure.
- You must land at the first airport of entry after crossing the U.S. border. Be on time—a little late is better than early, as CBP will allow a 15-minute window for your arrival time.
For more tips and access to travel resources, visit AOPA’s international web section or call the AOPA Pilot Information Center, 1-800-USA/AOPA (872/2672).
Kathleen Dondzila King
Manager, Technical Communications, Pilot Information Center
Technical Communications Manager, Kathleen Dondzila King, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.