Luperon, and maybe all of the Dominican Republic, but especially Luperon, has a bit of a reputation about bribes/made up fees/requested tips when dealing with the officials and clearing into and out of the country. We read it all but decided to just keep an open mind and see for ourselves.
It cost us $140.00, one cold beer, two cold sodas, two warm sodas, and another four dollars to clear in and here was our experience:
The first local we encountered was one of the boat boys, Papo. He was actually very grandfatherly. He approached us in his boat as we entered the harbor and politely welcomed us. He told us we could get a mooring for two dollars a day. We told him we wanted to anchor and he said we could anchor anywhere we wanted. He also told us about the services he offered but he wasn’t pushy at all. We were surprised by how professional he seemed.
We anchored and the second boat boy (also a grown man), Handy Andy, came by and welcomed us to the harbor and told us about the services he offered. He was also very professional in his approach and was helpful in learning the basics of where things were. We read that the officials will come out to the boat, but he said we could go to them- it was easier.
We had read both positive and cautionary reports about both of these men, first introductions were refreshingly friendly.
We collected our papers and put on our “customs” outfits and headed into town. Blabber and Antares were also headed in. The offices of the assorted officials was at the end of the large concrete warf and there is a gate between them and the town. There were several men sitting around in plastic chairs by the trailers housing the offices-these turned out to be the officials. A sign was posted on the wall with the fees and we easily found the door to the Immigration Office. Antares went first. While we were waiting our turn we were approached by a man in gym shorts and flip-flops. He told us we needed to buy a tourist card from him. We had read that this was a scam in some reports, it was only for people arriving by plane and to ignore him and just clear in without him, other reports said you simply had to pay it. We said we would see him later, after we finished the other paperwork. He was bordering on being pushy and kept saying him first. The fee was on the poster and the guy stamping the passport said we needed to buy the tourist card so in the end we did buy it. Official fee or not, it seemed we needed to purchase it to finish the process. It was ten dollars per person and it wasn’t worth any confrontation as this won’t be our last interaction with the officials while we are here.
After getting the possibly unnecessary tourist card, we visited with the Immigration Officer. He was also dressed in plain clothes with no name tag or any identification. He was very pleasant and patient as we tried out our Spanish for the very first time. With lots of pointing and looking up words in our translation book we completed the process and were asked for ninety dollars and given a receipt for 4000 pesos. Next stop was the Port Authority. He was also in plain clothes with no identification. He was very polite and filled out the paperwork for us. His charge was ten dollars. I don’t know who the next official we visited was (again no name tag or uniform). He was just as friendly and also filled out the form for us. There was no fee for him. Next we went to Agriculture. The woman was friendly, filled out the short form that had no questions about anything regarding fruits, vegetables, or animals for us. We paid her twenty dollars. She told us she had a laundry service. The fees were what we were expecting or at least in the ballpark and overall it was painless experience, we may have even had fun through it all.
As soon as we were done with the last official we were told to go back to our boat as the Comandante and other officials would be there to inspect it. We had been told while we were filling out the forms that they would bring a dog, I was wondering what Kai would think of a dog sniffing around his toy box. Antares and Blabber had finished ahead of us and when we got out to our boat we could see that they were just finishing up with their inspections. One of the boat boys had brought out the Comandante and four other officials. I think they were the M2/Intelligence and maybe someone from the Agriculture department. They also brought a translator. Only the Comandante was in uniform. They all boarded the boat. The translator said he didn’t bring the dog because we had a dog on the boat, I don’t think they ever planned on bringing a dog and I never saw one. We thought Kai was going to bark like crazy with everyone coming on the boat but as soon as he saw all the men in the cockpit he froze, I think I even saw him gulp. He was silent and sat tucked into Keith’s arms the whole time. So much for our ferocious watch dog, we had thought maybe he would be loud and obnoxious and make the process move along faster. No luck. The translator quickly explained that we would not be paying anymore fees, but if we would like to make a contribution to them it would gladly be accepted. I had planned on serving cold water in glasses with lime slices, but they asked for soda or beers. We only had one beer in the fridge, Keith was looking forward to having his last Bahamian Guinness later. We gave them the beer and the two cold sodas we had in the fridge, they chose warm sodas over cold water since we didn’t have enough for everyone and they didn’t want to share the cold ones. I think they asked for tequila but I’m not sure and I didn’t ask for clarification. Beyond getting the sodas and beer, I am not sure why they came out to the boat. The Comandante wrote down our boat name and that the boat was white in notebook. He asked for our checkout papers from the Bahamas but then never looked at them. They never went inside the boat. No one cared that we had a dog on board and we never showed his papers. The translator did ask two more times for contributions and that we should give what ever we were going to give directly to the Comandante. I didn’t feel like anything bad would have transpired if we had politely declined but Keith gave the Comandante four dollars since one of the other guys had taken the beer. The Comandante didn’t look overwhelmed. Interestingly, they did want to see the receipts from the other officials and asked how much we paid each of them, they confirmed that we did in fact need the tourist cards, but took photos of the receipt for 4000 pesos, the paperwork for clearing in the boat. They did the same on the other boats and told them it should have only been 3000 pesos. We are not going to get upset about it.
The whole process took about two hours, was within the ballpark of what we were expecting to pay, and honestly was not intimidating at all.
We were now free to go past the gate and wander the streets of Luperon! First order of business was to find cold drinks since we no longer had any for ourselves.
^^The Luperon dock
^^ Everyone has their arms crossed because we had just paid the questionable fee and were still trying to figure out if we should have so it is not the best photo to depict the experience.