October 06, 2016 by Clinton van der Linden

6 Visa Tips for South African Sailors

...with some extra help for the Caribbean

I’m proud to be South African. Yet our passport presents some special challenges. For example, while my Aussie and Kiwi mates can sail through Europe, we South Africans need a Schengen visa (it’s a kak one I know). This post presents some tips to my fellow South Africans to navigate the Customs and Immigration jungles of the world.


1. Pre-planning is number 1

Be aware of exactly where you going.  Scope out the island you are sailing to find which ones require you to have a visa. If you do this well in advance it will be ayoba.  I have put together a map showing tips about each island in the eastern side of the Caribbean (from Puerto Rico down the curve of islands to Trinidad) check it out.

2. Craft your passport

Having the green mamba is not all that bad (I am saying that because it's all we have so at least make the most of it ya?). Of course, it has to be valid (with at least six months validity in many countries) and to add, it will be helpful if you have prior stamps and visas. Prior stamps show that you have been accepted by other countries. This gives the place you are intending to enter the perception that you are not a threat and you will not overstay. It’s a lot to do with perception oaks!

3. Put all your documents on Evernote

If you don’t already know about Evernote, get on it. For us South African nomads Evernote is a God-send.  It stores all of your important documents in the cloud. No matter where you are if you can find an internet connection you can find that random document you forgot about but now require. Put all your documents on Evernote. Documents can be your saving grace; the more you have the better it will be for you. Make sure you have your boat papers and clearance docs from customs and immigration of islands you have been to already.

4. Get yourself a list of Embassies

This is going to take some time to research. It will help a lot if you are on an island that has several embassies on it (such as Trinidad for the US and the Dutch embassy for instance). Once you have found the right embassy, I suggest you call them first and find out what the procedure is going to be in getting a visa. While you will try calling, I have noticed they prefer you to email them everything. This includes your intentions, other info, and whichever documents they are requesting, aka “the relevant docs”. Remember when dealing with an embassy be as honest and open as possible. You never want them to think you are misrepresenting (ie. talking shit).

5. Be straight up

When I first applied for my US visa I was told a lot of “things I should say”. Things that may not have been dishonest (strictly speaking) but were certainly bending the truth. In retrospect, this advice was not right. It reminds me of the Mark Twain quote that goes something like “if in doubt, be honest”. Had I been perfectly honest, I may well have received my 10-year visa on the first attempt. Note that every time a visa is denied it gets more difficult to obtain. Which brings me to my final tip:

6. Never give up!

The truth is we are really no different from other nationalities. We are all humans and should be allowed to travel our planet freely. Sailors and gypsies understand this very well.

Things are tougher for us. But that just makes us tougher. We are known and loved by others for this. And we know it ourselves. Just as necessity breeds invention, our challenges have bred in us a capacity to think ahead and most of all, survive. Best of luck. And seriously, never give up.


Being South African presents us with a few visa challenges that other countries don’t have.  That’s just how it is. There are a few things you should do if venturing through the Caribbean. I hope you can enjoy your adventures that much more with these tips followed.

If you'd like to look at a career in sailing, we have prepared a free e-book which you can download here:

Get Paid To Sail: Free e-Book

Clinton van der Linden is a sailing instructor with Sailing Virgins, a sailing academy based in the British Virgin Islands.  He runs courses based on the American Sailing Association (ASA) programs. For more information about these courses click here. To get in touch with Clinton direct click here.

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