Puerto del Rey, Puerto Rico; Nassau, Bahamas

16° 58' 60" N, 61° 42' 54" W


Last week, I finally got my B1/B2 visa to re-enter the US legally, after quite an odyssey...

On our frequent visits to the US over the past years I had always entered the country on a visa waiver (i.e. without a visa). Before we left Germany, we checked the US State Department and Department of Homeland Security websites to make sure that the Visa Waiver Program also covers entry by sea, which, according to those agencies' websites, it does. Little did we know...

It was only on our way north from Antigua that we found some small print in an old pilot book that said yes - you can enter on a visa waiver by air and by sea but not if you're coming on a private sailboat (it turns out that the carrier needs to be certified, which the major air and cruise lines are) - in which case you need a visa to be obtained from a US embassy/consulate outside the US. So we started exploring our options while we were in St. Kitts, calling US Embassies and trying to figure out where to get the visa. Interestingly, the first thing you hear when you call an US Embassy with a question about visas these days is "This is a 15 Dollar phone call - can I have your credit card details please" (the prices vary by country: Germans pay 15 Euro, Aussies only AUS$ 11 - about half the price - probably a surcharge for chocolate producing countries...). After considerably frustration about phones not being answered and inconsistent information from different sources, it seemed that the only way to get the visa before entering Puerto Rico was for me to fly back to Germany and go the US Embassy in Berlin (the closest US Embassy in Barbados had a 30 day waiting period for visas at that point).

We had already resigned ourselves to a trip back to the fatherland from St. Maarten (airport with direct flights to Europe), when Nana's mother saved the day. She was able to get through to the 1-800 number for Customs and Border Protection in the US. She found out that there is a special waiver I-193 that can be granted by the customs officer on entry into US territory. At US$ 545 it's not exactly cheap but still better than the airfare to Germany... So we called ahead to customs in Puerto Rico to verify that this information was indeed correct. The CBP folks in Puerto Rico were the first ones in this process who were really helpful and confirmed that yes - you can apply for this waiver. Approval is up to a CBP supervisor but under normal circumstances it would be granted.

Relieved that we didn't have to deal with going back to Germany we now went ahead and arrived in Puerto Rico on April 18 where we were visited by two friendly CBP officers aboard Namani. We explained the situation (which they apparently encounter frequently with boats from Europe) and it was decided that we should come to their office at the local airport the next day to sort this out. At the airport we then spent about four hours with another very friendly and helpful CBP officer who was trying to find some way within this arcane set of rules to get me legally entered into the country without paying 500 bucks. After much debating it turned out that officially I was a still a permanent resident in the US - based on a Green Card that was stolen in 2004 when we had been back in Germany for three years. We had reported the card stolen to the US State Department back then but I never officially resigned my resident status (I didn't know that there was another special form I-407 for this...). Hence in the CPB systems I still showed up as a permanent resident - free to enter the US at any time and by any means... So I was entered as a permanent resident and then immediately resigned my resident status. Now I was allowed to stay in US territory as long as I wanted but as soon as I left I would need a visa to re-enter.

So in the end I got an appointment for a visa interview at the US Embassy in the Bahamas (only a 2-day wait period) and made a 4-day trip there (with an overnight flight lay-over in Florida plus waiting for the visa to be issued) to finally get my B1/B2 visa that will now allow multiple entries into US territory. At least the visa is valid for 10 years now ...


Hi Markus, Glad to hear you still got lucky in the end. Dealing with U.S. immigration - probably any immigration office for that matter - is a real hassle. When I left Japan we wanted to go on a one-way flight to the U.S. to show the newborn son to the in-laws. No go - I was married to a U.S. Citizen, the mother of a U.S. citizen, therefore I was labeled a high risk for illegal immigration and was advised not to try to enter on a one-way flight. So we flew Japan - Taiwan - Malaysia - Frankfurt to turn around two days later to fly via Iceland to Maryland. All that with a one and a half year old on my lap.... I got in for a visit - and I got out again, too.

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