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Checking in & out

There were two places on the island for clearance, in Phuket Town and at Ao Chalong, but now the town office will direct you to Ao Chalong (ao means bay in Thai), a large sheltered anchorage in the island's southeast, which for many is the first Phuket landfall anyway. By road, it's about 20 minutes south of Phuket Town.

A new building at Ao Chalong's pier offers one-stop service, with customs, immigration and harbour master located there. There have been complaints that the office is not always staffed when it should be.

Immigration charges 300 baht on arrival and departure. There is an additional 10-baht charge for each passenger. No extra charges for crew. Receipts given. Customs does not charge a fee on arrival, 100 baht on departure. Harbour master also charges 100 baht on departure only.

Technically, boats leaving Phuket province for Krabi or other Thai provinces are obliged to clear out with the harbour master.

On arrival, if passengers don't have tourist visas they will be granted entry for one-month. Extensions of seven or 10 days can be made.

Crew get a non-extendable one-month entry — if you previously obtained a visa from Thai diplomatic missions abroad, it will be ignored — and are technically in-transit with the vessel, meaning they will not receive a white departure card in their passport and must each post a 20,000-baht bond if they wish to leave the country without the boat. For this reason, it is simplest if only the skipper actually signs in as crew, while others enter as passengers.

Firearms must be declared to customs, who will take possession until departure. No restriction on pets. Skipper is responsible for crew, so make sure all papers are in order. Q flag not necessary.

Permit extensions: Foreign-registered yachts are permitted to remain in Thailand for up to one year. Yachts are given six months on arrival, which can generally be extended for an additional six months. For most, a letter, in Thai, from a marina proving paid moorage is sufficient. For those not staying in a marina, a good reason is required, such as needing critical boat work. Some have used letters from contractors listing work that needs be done. Customs will require photos of the boat and work required (an engine in pieces). Some have reported that they were able to obtain an extension without a letter of any kind. The situation could change at any time.

Also, extensions can be arranged for boatowners who are outside the country, with the help of agents (such as an obliging marina manager or a local yacht management company). Since the boatowner must be present, this requires signing your boat over to an agent and lots of paperwork before you depart.

Personal note: I was in a motorcycle accident in Phuket and returned to my home country after I got out of the hospital. My recovery was longer than expected, meaning my boat was up against the one-year maximum stay. To get an extension, I needed to provide a letter from my doctor at home and sign responsibilty for my boat over to the nice people at the Yacht Haven, who obtained a police report and letter from the hospital in Phuket. The marina did the leg work, for which I am grateful. My boat received an additional six months, for a total of 18 months.

Visa extensions: Crew wishing to remain in Thailand with their boat obviously must renew their visas. To do this they must leave the country, either travelling to a Thai embassy or consulate abroad to obtain a tourist visa, good for 60 days (extendable for 30 days), or by simply crossing the border and returning to renew the one-month entry. See visa runs.

Other ports: Yachts can also check in at the Thai mainland ports of Krabi and Satun. Both fairly straightforward.

At Satun, the channel to Tamalang Pier, a departure point for fast ferries to Langkawi, is well marked. Immigration, customs and harbour master are close by. There are reports that some boats checking in at Satun have been given 12-month permits automatically, but this could change at any time. Boats checking in at Satun should also visit the harbour master in Phuket or Krabi with onward clearance papers.

At Krabi, formalities are simple with the various offices in the port area. Clearance should be made at the harbour master's office even if coming from Phuket.

Wear a smile and treat all officials with patience and respect — Thai bureaucracy can be a minefield for the haughty, the imperious and the cranky.

Note: In the West, if you dress like a slob, it reflects on you. In Thailand, things are different. If you show up at a government office dressed in a ratty t-shirt and shorts, it announces your lack of respect for the official you've come to see. Not an auspicious start.

Health warning: Of course you already know this, but in both Thailand and Malaysia, penalties for the import or export of illegal drugs can shorten your life expectancy.

Yachting guide to Phuket, Langkawi & the Andaman Sea
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