Fly yourself to the Bahamas? You can, and you should...
You should go for it! I've had the pleasure of flying to nearly every Caribbean country out there; countless islands, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. You can do it in either a helicopter or airplane, whatever suits you best. I have done it in both, and there are obvious advantages to each. In either case I can assure you it will be a lot of fun.
There is however a lot of information that you will need to do this and you will find it all right here. It is imperative that you follow all regulations and laws of the US and those of the countries which you will visit completely and fully. I can tell you one thing for sure, you will be treated a lot better in those countries at their respective customs and immigration authorities than you will be when you return to the US and have to deal with US Customs and Immigration as a private pilot, you will find that they are the dregs of law enforcement. It shouldn't be that way, but that is just the way it is. If you know that going out, it will be a lot easier and you won't be as disappointed coming back home.
First things first - What you will need before you go
In the old days, you could travel on your US driver’s license, but now-a-days, you must have a passport. Travel outside the US on a driver’s license is no longer permitted, and was never a good idea. It can take a little bit of time to get your passport if you don't already have one, so plan to get it early. Absolutely, and most importantly, make sure you read and comply with the paragraph below on re-entry into the US and its territories. You will also need a User Fee sticker for your aircraft which should really be obtained before you leave the country, but can also be applied for when you enter back into the states (which won't be a problem). If you wait until you enter, it is just one more thing you have to do as you go through US Customs right after you deal with their low-life tactics.
When you are outside of the US, everyone will want the US dollar and in many cases that is all they will take. You must make sure that you have a lot of change, and better still nothing larger than twenty dollar bills. Fives, tens, and at least 200 one dollar bills is the best. If you do not have exact change, one of the biggest scams going is that they can't make change. Even if they say they will go get it, you may have a very long wait for them to come back.
You will need some paperwork for international flight which can all be obtained at the links on this page. It is very important that you understand and remember that every time you take-off outside of the US, you must be on an international flight plan. You cannot land and enter any foreign country without clearing customs and immigration so your first landing must be at an airport which provides that service. Once you have done so, then you may hop from island to island in that same country without worrying about customs and immigration if there is no service on that particular island. Your first landing must be at an airport with customs and immigration services, and every time you land at a location where such services exist, you must clear it.
The forms you will need departing the US and for entry into countries in the Caribbean are the international flight plan form, and the General Declaration form aka your 'Gendec'. It is a good idea to make three copies of your flight plan everytime, you will need to give one to the tower at your airport of departure outside of the US if there is one at that airport, you may be asked for a copy when you land, and you will need a copy for your records. You will need at least three copies of the Gendec also, and maybe four. When you leave, customs will ask for a copy of your Gendec, and when you arrive at customs they will ask for a copy as well; immigration does not usually ask for a copy but sometimes they do (that is what the fourth copy will be for, don't forget to save one for your records). You will not be able to get copies made at the Customs facilities in other countries.
Download the forms you need here:
It is not necessary to make any appointments or previous notice to other countries about your arrival. You just land, clear customs and immigration, pay all your fees, and you are free to tour the country. There can be customs fees, immigration fees, landing fees and departure fees so be ready to pay and don't gripe about it. They will charge you for everything and the only accepted currency will be the mighty US dollar or the currency of the country which you are visiting. In this case we are talking about the Bahamas, so their currency is the Bahamian dollar which they will tell you is on par with the American dollar, and it is. However, you will not be able to spend the Bahamian money in the US so it is better to make sure that you spend any that you are given in change while you are there, or change it back before you leave.
The real trick to flying outside of the US is your entry back into the US. It is your homeland, and it should be easier and you should be treated with respect, but that is not the way it is. There is no ruder group of individuals than US Customs agents dealing with private aircraft. They will lie to you, and treat you like a criminal. They are the absolute worst people I have ever delt with, and it has been the same at every airport of entry and with every agent; it is just they way they are. If you expect this coming back in, your two hour venture through Customs and Immigration should be a little more pleasant. No matter how bad they act, you should smile and be respectful like a good American should. Make certain that you write down the names of every agent you talk to so that you can make an accurate complaint later; and you should follow through with it.
There is a $5,000 penalty for failing to make an appointment with US Customs at the port of entry which you will be landing at in the US or any of its territories. This appointment must be made not less than 1-hour in advance, and is best made within a couple of hours of your arrival; do not count on ATC to do this for you as they do not! Customs has the power to wave this penalty, but they will lie in your face about it. Absolutely do not fail to make this appointment. When you call to make the appointment, be certain that you ask the name of the inspector you are talking to, and make sure you right it down. If you have the capability to record the conversation with customs when you make this appointment, that is better still. When you enter customs, they will pretend that they didn't expect you, and they will deny that they talked to you, and often will deny that you called them at all. Like I said, they are a low-life bunch. I was traveling with a retired US customs agent once and when I explained this to him, he didn't believe me until he witnessed it first hand while we were on a ferry flight together. Once he exposed his customs history to the agents, their attitude changed completely.
There is also a $100,000 penalty for landing at the incorrect airport (one without customs), or for landing at a location on the airport anywhere other than the Customs ramp. Make no mistake about where you need to be after landing; tower or ground can guide you as you taxi. Make sure that you have a copy of your international flight plan, a copy of your Gendec, and your Arrival Report. Customs will ask for all of them, and they will expect that you have them already filled out; they will be extra ornery if you don't. Any fines must be paid immediately, and aircraft forfeiture is commonly threatened and always possible if you are in violation.
It is also absolutely imperative that you know where the US ADIZ is located, and that you are in contact with US approach controllers before you cross it even if you are VFR. If you are not in contact with approach control, and if you are not squawking the discreet code they gave you (VFR code will be 12xx, but will not be 1200), you will be intercepted. If you go through an intercept, you will really have a hard time at customs. Make certain that in addition to monitoring ATC and any other frequencies needed, that you are also monitoring 121.5; interceptors will be trying to contact you on 121.5.
Don't let the negative crap about our low-life customs and immigration agents keep you from taking an adventure outside of the US in your own private aircraft, it is most enjoyable, and the other stuff is just a part of the facts. It will give you drive to do something about improper conduct of American officials. You should take the time to make formal complaints about the agencies and rude individuals involved; that is the only way it will ever be changed.
Enjoy your training, and fly safe!! Jump to Top