Maldives: the best international clearance ever

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It’s a pretty good sign when your agent arrives to the boat with ice cream to share that clearing into the country will go off without a hitch.

How do you get in and out of a country when you’re cruising? It can seem intimidating to the uninitiated. It’s not, really, and the process becomes relatively routine- except that every country is different in some way…whether you have to hunt offices down on shore, or they come to you, or if any advance notice is needed, or an agent required, or whatever the variation may be. (I’ve written about the general process on the blog before).

In Maldives, it was not just efficiently handled, it was easily the best clearance ever- and it wasn’t because of the ice cream, although that won’t soon be forgotten.

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the kids swimming off Utopia on Uligan’s “house reef”

After hunting around for almost an hour to find a good place to anchor (ultimately getting hooked in a sand patch in about 15’, and buoying the chain with fenders to keep it off the reef), we had encroached on lunchtime. “It’s OK,”  our agent, Assad from Real Seahawks Maldives, said over VHF – “go for a swim if you’d like, we’ll be out after 2pm.” And so we did, getting our first taste of the incredible life underwater in this beautiful country.

Uligan reef

When officials came out later in the day, clearance was handled in just a few minutes of paper stamping and signatures. Assad brought SIM cards so that we could get connected immediately, recognizing we’d appreciate this. He knew there were children on Totem, and brought boxed cookies and chocolates wrapped in shiny foil paper for each of them to unwrap. I’m certain our kids have never been so impressed with clearance before!

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We might only have spent a day or two on Uligan to clear if it weren’t for the hospitality of Assad. Our warm welcome to Maldives was so much more than Assad’s friendly greeting and facilitation of an easy clearance. He took Jamie and a few Utopian crew out to go fishing. He welcomed us into his home to meet his family. He offeried a cold drink or other hospitality on every shore visit. He organized a barbecue on the beach. Uligan has been his family’s home for generations, and he was happy to answer our many questions about the island.

buying SIM

This was all beyond his agent services, which were great, but everything to do with this agent being a wonderful human being– a person who has an excellent understanding of cruisers, of our needs and interests. Someone who took the time to know what we’d especially appreciate- and then make it happen. I really can’t speak highly enough about our experience with him in Uligan.

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And so instead of a day in Uligan, it was a week, and we left with that bittersweet taste from the blend of good memories in our wake with the anticipation of more to be made in the weeks ahead.

For the curious: official fees for permits and clearance make Maldives among the most expensive countries we’ve visited, and certainly the most costly in terms of unavoidable-fees-per-day. One month is nearly $900. But most of these fees are fixed whether you stay one month or three months, so by staying longer we bring down our daily cost- we’ll average around $17/day over two months. Agent fees are just a small fraction, and similar to Sri Lanka and French Polynesia- the other countries we’ve been required to have an agent. The biggest charge in Maldives is from the tourism ministry. It feels high, and in planning our route this year, there were times we questioned coming. But one week in, we’re glad we did, and excited about the weeks ahead here.

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