Checking Into Customs and Immigration

A more practical way to re-enter the United States from a foreign port

patrol boat on the water
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has initiated the CBP Reporting Offsite Arrival Mobile app, called ROAM.Contraband Collection/Alamy

Foreign travel in the sport-fishing industry has become more commonplace over the past two decades. It seems almost every boat more than 50 feet long spends time in another country at some point during the year. As most captains and owners know, understanding customs and immigration requirements is an important part of the travel process. Fortunately, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has initiated the CBP Reporting Offsite Arrival Mobile app, called ROAM, which makes it more convenient for pleasure boaters to satisfy the reporting requirements when returning to the United States from foreign destinations.

Entry Requirements

Operators of pleasure vessels arriving in the United States from foreign ports or places are required to report their arrivals to CBP immediately. The same basic rules apply whether you are arriving in Miami from Bimini or North Carolina from Bermuda. The master of the vessel reports the arrival to the nearest customs facility at the relevant port of entry. Traditionally, this was done by telephoning an arrival in the United States to CBP and thereafter visiting the closest field office or reporting location to meet an immigration officer in person.

Traditional System Challenges

The face-to-face requirement created many challenges for boaters returning to the United States. For example, a boat based out of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, returning from Bermuda would first have to clear customs in Morehead City because it was the closest official Port of Entry. Thus, captains were forced to veer 100 miles out of their way after grueling 40- to 50-hour trips across the open ocean, typically adding a half-day to return voyages.

Similarly, individuals arriving back in Florida from the Bahamas were forced to visit a CBP office after reporting their entries. This especially created problems for individuals who returned to Florida in late afternoons and had work obligations the next day, as well as nonresidents of Florida who had to find time to visit a customs office before flying back to their hometowns the next morning. These challenges caused some pleasure boaters to take their chances and return to the United States without reporting their entries.

The ROAM App

Fortunately, the CBP implemented the ROAM application in September 2018, which provides pleasure boaters a faster and more practical way to report their arrivals back into most coastal states. The app can be downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet, eliminating the requirement to physically visit a CBP field office in most situations, allowing travelers to return directly back to their planned destinations or hailing ports.

Upon first opening the app, users will be directed to login.gov and must create a username and password and have access to an email address. Users should then add themselves as travelers within the app, so they can receive a verified travel number via email from the CBP before their first entry back into the United States from a foreign port. A CBP officer might call or even FaceTime a new app user to confirm information before submitting the verified traveler number.

After Initial Setup

The app itself is easy to use once it is downloaded and set up. The master of a vessel simply reports an arrival within the app by adding the mode of travel using the vessel information, the travelers’ information and trip details for review. Within a few minutes after submitting the info, a CBP officer might initiate a video chat to interview the master of the vessel and the other travelers. Upon satisfactory review, a push notification is sent through the app and an email is sent to the master of the vessel confirming the arrival back into the United States.

Perhaps some users will experience glitches with this new technology, but I personally used the ROAM app on our last trip to the Bahamas and it worked perfectly. Previous reporting methods presented challenges to pleasure boaters and oftentimes made it difficult to comply with our customs and immigration laws. I am hopeful this system will prove to be a long-term upgrade for all of us who travel internationally aboard our vessels.