In the BVI they classify people as "belongers" and " non-belongers". We fall into the category of " non-belongers" which means that we can only stay in the BVI for 30 days without further action on our part. We hit the 30 day mark a few days ago. Our choices at that point
were to get a taxi to drive to Road town to get an extension, or to check out of the BVI, hop over to USVI and then come back to BVI, check back in and be given another 30 day visa so that we could belong there for a while longer.
We opted to head to the USVI and take advantage of a larger grocery store to stock up while we were there.
Checking out of BVI, easy. Checking into USVI, easy. Checking out of USVI, really really easy, since they don't require you to check out, you just leave. Checking back into BVI this time, not so easy.
There is a room to check in ( fortunately air-conditioned). There is a long counter with four gentlemen seated behind it, but no signs or labels explaining who is doing what job. Two of them were Customs. They wore the dark shirts. They deal with importing, and the checking in of the boat. Two if them are in white shirts, and they are with immigration. There is a very specific order that they want you to present your papers to them, but there was no signage explaining this save some signs on the wall, blocked by all the people there.
In front of the counter there is about three feet to the wall and the length of the counter is about 8 feet. In this 3 x 8 space were packed about 20 people, most of them holding fistfuls of passports for the 8 to 10 people they had on board.
You enter the door on the left hand side of the room. If you have boat papers for Customs you have to squeeze to the right hand side of the counter. It is impossible to tell who is squeezing to the right and who is squeezing to the left for Immigration.
Once you get the attention of one of the Customs Officers they will scrutinize your papers and have you correct any errors you have made. Then they will send you outside to another part of the building to pay your fees. Once the fees are paid you come back to the 3 x 8 space and squeeze your way back to the right to show them you have paid.
Then the left hand squeezing begins. There are two Immigration Officers, but they often left to deal with other issues, such as a ferry arriving, or the sudden need to straighten the pink and green forms that boat owners present to them. The people are left waiting for long stretches of time where it appears nothing is being done. Suddenly one of the Officers will reappear with a pile of passports, hand them back to the owners and say " you forgot to fill out sections B and C" at which point that person will stand at the counter and fill out sections B and C for all 10 passports in their pile while the officer waits.
When the forms are filled out to his satisfaction the passport stamping begins. Each passport must be stamped and have the dates written in by hand. The Officer is very careful to do this properly, which takes time. At no time do the Officers notice the anxiousness and impatience of those waiting, that is apparently not in their job description.
Finally one of the Officers finishes with their customer. "Who is next?" they ask. Well, no- one really knows. People have been squeezing to the right, squeezing to the left, going to pay fees and then returning. Who can tell who arrived first and who has been waiting the longest. Some people have hungry children waiting on the boat, some have to get to their destination before dark. Then there are the water taxi drivers who have to present papers for all of their passengers, and have 2 more runs to do today. Should they get preference? Or the people with only 2 passports ( us). They will be quick, can we get them taken care of?
If someone was asked to design a more inefficient, confusing system, they would have to work hard to do it. On the other hand, I have heard stories of checking in to other countries that makes this look easy (and cheap). Perhaps someday we will look back at checking into the BVI with fondness and wish that all check ins could be so easy.