Saturday, December 31, 2011

Checking in and out Procedures for Colombia

I don’t particularly enjoy writing about rules and regulations in different countries (not in the least because they keep changing all the time) and I’m sure nobody really loves reading about them either, except the cruisers who plan to visit these countries. So, it is for them I write this blog about our experiences clearing in and out of Colombia, where the use of an agent is required. The information out there is very contradicting and my two cents probably makes things even more confusing, but here you have it, another person’s view on Colombia’s red tape… Things would be more straightforward, done right and less expensive if we could do the formalities ourselves.

Clearing into the country in Santa Marta is cheaper than in Cartagena, where your boat also gets inspected upon entry. Friendly and helpful Dino is the agent in Santa Marta and he is related to the clean, modern and safe Santa Marta Marina. His fee is US$53 which entitles you to a stamp in your passport and a yellow clearing in form for the boat, supposedly a temporary importation permit (which we for some reason never received, even after asking for it a few times) and a zarpe to your next port, whether this is still in Colombia or another country. If you choose to leave from here, your passport will receive an exit stamp as well. So, basically for about $50 you can clear in and out of Colombia if you only stay in Santa Marta. Also, the port captain here is said to put “y puntos intermedios” on the zarpe, which lets you stop along the Colombian coast to rest at night, on your way east or west to your next destination. This is unheard of and discarded in Cartagena.

When you move on to Cartagena, which we did, there are a few agents to pick from, namely David, Manfred and Paola (from Cartagena Caribbean), who came to our boat by dinghy from the moment we arrived, so our choice was made quickly. She charges $53 (100 000 pesos) for dealing with the paperwork here: another yellow clearance form, exit stamps from immigration in your passport and a zarpe to your next destination, more than likely a port in Panama. As far as we understand it, you need a cruising permit if you stay longer than 14 days in Colombia. But, the cost is US$80 and the process takes several weeks, making such a thing obsolete for us, only planning to stay a little over two weeks. We know of many people who had to wait for their cruising permit, only to leave the country next…

When arriving in Cartagena as your first port of entry in Colombia, the price ranges from US$100 to US$ 150 without the cruising permit. Most of the agents don’t really know the laws and regulations and especially Paola is a queen in telling you whatever you want to hear. Or, she just guesses things she thinks or hopes are reality. In our case, this brought a lot of frustration, time loss and confusion. When she left the country for her Christmas vacation and left all the (paper)work to her “assistant(s)”, matters didn’t get easier, quicker or less confusing…

If your boat spends more than two months in the country, you will have to apply for a permanent importation permit, which costs around US$200 and is a very time consuming process as well. This is only necessary if you plan to haul the boat for a while, fly back home, or decide to visit a lot of places in South America while your boat stays safely in Santa Marta or another marina (don’t go to the Club Nautico “dump” with the big boat!).

If money is not your biggest restraint, but comfort is, we would highly recommend anybody to check in and out of Santa Marta, spoil yourselves with a couple of weeks (or a month, which gives you ten days free on top at the moment) in the very convenient and comfortable Santa Marta marina and visit Cartagena overland for a few days. The marina is just wonderful, with modern docks and facilities (think air-conditioned bathrooms with hot showers, washing machines with hot water, efficient dryers, working electricity and water spigots at every slip), a friendly and helpful staff and a pretty and historic town with a multitude of bars, restaurants, parks, shops and grocery stores within walking distance (cabs all over town cost US$2 a trip). This way, you don’t only get to enjoy Santa Marta fully; you avoid the extra agent fees in Cartagena and more importantly, the filthiest, busiest, bumpiest and most annoying anchorage in the Caribbean!

Local Colombian boat taking on water after running into a "backpackers" cruising boat in Cartagena harbor...

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