Border Force – Newcastle, Australia

Toucan clearing in at Newcastle
Toucan clearing in at Newcastle

Several international cruisers we met on our travels expressed reluctance to visit Australia because they’d heard horror stories of how difficult the clearance process is, and how expensive it is. Well, maybe the latter, especially if you break the rules….but if you follow the rules it’s really not that hard and in our case it’s been a relatively easy and pleasant experience. So for those of you who may be interested in how it all works, here’s our story of checking in and importing our boat into our home country…

First of all, a little back story. When we knew we’d be returning home for a while we checked with Customs about the importation rules. We discovered that regardless of whether we were coming home permanently or temporarily, if we were staying longer than 12 months we’d need to import the boat (even though we have no intention of selling it). Because our boat was built in Europe it doesn’t qualify for the trade agreement between USA and Australia, so we knew we’d be up for the full importation fee – 5% duty and 10% GST. Ouch! But those are the rules, so we decided to bite the bullet and swallow the nasty medicine, reasoning that if GST rises in the future it could cost us even more if we delay bringing Toucan home.

Prior to leaving Fiji we got in contact with Dazmac, an importation agency in Sydney who we’ve used before and highly recommend. They were able to streamline the whole process for us and gave us valuable information – they advised that because we’d purchased the boat over 12 months ago we’d need a current valuation done by a licensed surveyor, but this could only be done on arrival. Usually you’re restricted to the port of entry until this is completed and you’ve paid your fees, but we were advised that if we cleared into a NSW port close to our home waters we were likely be granted a ‘port-to-port’ clearance allowing us to come home to Pittwater to complete the process. Hence our decision to clear into Newcastle rather than Bundaberg…

As we were arriving into Newcastle late in the afternoon, we asked if we could pick up the quarantine mooring overnight and do our clearance the next morning. Yes, they said. So we had a quiet night catching up on much-needed sleep and eating the last of our delicious Vanuatu steaks. In the morning Anthony from Australian Border Force (aka Customs & Immigration) rang us and suggested we come into the marina so they could do the clearance procedures there. He was most impressed that we’d already organized a marina berth and had an import agent (it really helps to have all your ducks in a row) so we were off to a good start.

The two Biosecurity officers (Quarantine & Agriculture) were waiting on the dock as we arrived, armed with their large orange garbage bags to collect any fresh food we had left. Unfortunately we had a fair bit as we’d planned on staying longer in the reefs, and there’s only so much food we could eat in the time frame! All fresh or frozen meat was confiscated, along with vegetables, fruit, eggs, nuts in their shells, popcorn, lentils etc. But unlike New Zealand they let us keep our honey so I guess we can be thankful for that. They also went out of their way to determine whether we could keep our one last bundle of kava root as a souvenir, but after several google searches they apologetically told us they’d have to take that too. Oh well, it was a long shot anyway!

The last of our Kava had to go sadly...if it was in powdered form apparently it would have been OK!
The last of our Kava had to go sadly…if it was in powdered form apparently it would have been OK!

They also inspected the boat for evidence of termites or other bugs – the only wood we have is veneer so we weren’t too worried about that, and within just over an hour they were done. And then there was the bad news – at $50 per 15 mins per officer our wallet was now emptied of $450! And all for the privilege of taking our food from us! It definitely pays to arrive with less disposable food to cut down the time I guess.

We were also very fortunate with our experience with ABF – apparently there was a huge drug bust on a yacht arriving from NZ just a couple of weeks before we arrived, and Anthony told us that had we been a week earlier arriving they would have done the full ‘rip the boat apart looking for drugs’ blitz. I assume we also don’t fit the profile of your average drug-runner so we had a slight advantage there! Anthony had no problem giving us a port-to-port clearance to Pittwater and so all-in-all it was as pleasant and helpful an experience as we could have hoped for. Thank you guys! So we’re now legal, except for the small matter of paying our import duties….for now, we’re going to enjoy a couple of days in Newcastle while we wait for favourable weather to get to Pittwater. Almost there!

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