Can You Travel The World In A Boat? (Legal, Passport, Visa)

Imagining you want to escape the troubles of the world and set out on the adventure of a lifetime, you may be considering your options for transportation. Costs, convenience, and practicality will all matter in this grand of a trip. So, perhaps you are considering setting sail in your favorite water vessel.

Table of Contents

Can you travel the world in a boat? Yes, with the proper boat, equipment, legal documentation, and other preparations, it definitely is possible. You will want to consider your safety variables, seamanship, and plans for your route before departure. While you do not need a passport for international waters, you will need this and proof of ownership of your boat (and possibly a Visa) when entering another country’s port. 

Setting out on a trip around the world via boat is no easy task. It required extensive preparation, knowledge, and capability of navigating the open waters.

Additionally, it is possible that you will see only those on your boat for days on end, so be sure to bring an enjoyable crew that is capable of making the journey as well. With thorough research and skills, you can make this dream come true.

Continue reading to learn about the practical steps to make traveling the world in a boat possible for you and your crew.

What Type of Boat Do I Need to Travel the World?

When considering the type of boat you will need, you will want to consider a few different variables.


Regarding the safety of your boat, there are numerous standards to uphold. Consider the following to make your decision on which boat to set sail on around the world:

  • Boat size. Your boat will need to be large enough to house you and your crew as well as uphold against the force of the crashing ocean waves. While almost any boat can travel in the ocean, it is imperative that you consider the offshore adventure you are about to embark on. You may face severe storms, hit deep or shallow water, or experience lulls in the wind. This, among many other factors, will affect how big your boat should be. For more information on boat size in the ocean, visit this article for a detailed description.
  • Seamanship. While your route can vary, your ability to handle your boat and navigate in the direction you are planning is critical to making this journey a success. A skilled sailor can take many different boating options, but one with less experience needs to critically think about what he or she can reasonably handle. If you do not feel comfortable navigating your boat on the ocean- even in case of an emergency where you are in a terrible storm or lose outside communication- then you should consider taking someone with you who has advanced seamanship to ensure that you stay alive. 
  • Boat Safety equipment. Being prepared for any situation, especially on a long journey like traveling the world in a boat, will help to make sure that you and your fellow companions can enjoy your trip and make it safely home. Equipment to consider includes food and water, fuel (and knowledge of where to access more), floating devices and life vests, a VHF marine grade radio (for outside communication- required by law), charts and navigational equipment, and travel documentation for safely entering and exiting various countries throughout your journey.

Planning Your Route

While there are many different options for traveling the world, it is important to consider what destinations you would like to hit along the way. Planning your route will help you to consider the legal requirements, type of water and weather to expect, and where to stop for fuel.

  • Legal requirements. If you are planning on stopping in many countries, you will want to know where the ports are as well as the legal requirements to enter each country. Since each country has its own regulations for paperwork and documentation that is required of those who enter, you will want to research this and know ahead of time. Spontaneity may sound nice in theory, but it could lead to difficulties entering a country you were hoping to stop by at.
  • Type of water and weather to expect. Additionally, your route will alter the type of water and weather you are likely to experience. As an example, if you are navigating near a region that is known to have rougher waves, you will want to make sure you know how to handle your boat in this atmosphere. The Caribbean during hurricane season comes to mind. Additionally, if you are traveling inland from, say, the Pacific and are aiming to dock at the port, you will need to be able to navigate your boat in the water with a lower depth. 
  • Where to stop for fuel. Finally, planning your route ahead of time is critical in determining the appropriate length of boat travel prior to needing to stop for fuel. While it is difficult to provide specific examples here due to the extreme variances in boat type and fuel range, it can at least be said that you should consider leaving between 10-15% of your fuel in the reserves and stop to fill up when the range hits this margin.
    The last thing you want on your journey is to get stuck because you ran out of fuel- especially due to a preventable error like planning to stop. This is especially important if you are not planning to use a sailing boat that has sails.
Can You Travel The World In A Boat? (Legal, Passport, Visa)

Consider Your Preferences

Your preferences are obviously important if you are planning to travel the world in a boat. This is no minor adventure, so you will want to make sure that you are as comfortable, relaxed, and content as possible.

There are several preferences to consider. A few include companionship, cabin room, and pace of travel.

  • Companionship. Perhaps you are choosing to travel the world in a boat to escape the herds of people you are surrounded with daily. In this case, you are probably looking for a smaller crew. While you could travel alone if you are extraordinarily skilled, it is not recommended due to the safety risks involved.
    Even if you are not planning to bring your 100 closest friends and family along (as if this sounds like a good idea), you should still consider pairing with at least one if not several other people who can help you to navigate, stay healthy and rested, and provide insight into any decisions that need to be made.
  • Cabin room. The amount of space on your boat for resting and relaxation will largely be determined by the number of companions you plan to bring along the way. Additionally, if you prefer tighter quarters or a more spacious atmosphere to separate you from those who you are spending your consecutive months with, then you will want to consider how much room you would like on your boat.
    This can be an included factor in determining the type of boat you decide to take on your journey, too. Since this is going to be a longer period of travel, be sure to invest in a boat that you will be comfortable in regardless of who you bring along.
  • Pace of travel. The pace of travel for your trip will be determined both by the type of power source you choose to use as well as the destination points that you stop in at. If you prefer a slower pace, you may choose to spend more time in the countries you are visiting or perhaps choose to use a sailboat instead of a motor the entire time.
    On the other hand, if you would like to travel with more speed, then you could consider spending less time at each destination but reaching more countries or using only a motorized option. So long as you have plenty of fuel, then you should be able to successfully take whichever pace you prefer.

Customs and Immigration: Visas, Passports, and Boat Proof of Ownership While Traveling the World in a Boat

If you have ever flown, then you will be able to recognize that the Customs and Immigration process is relatively similar when entering a country by boat.

However, if you have not flown before and are planning to travel the world for the first time by boat, then you should know that this process is not too difficult so long as you follow recommendations and procedures.

Customs and Immigration will vary in each country you travel to. While most countries follow a basic procedure that mirrors those of other countries, you cannot expect each country to go by the exact same method.

After all, each country that you visit will have its own laws, leadership, and expectations of those who are planning to enter.

  1. Dock in a Designated Port of Entry. The basic procedure for Customs and Immigration is pretty simple, but be sure to check with each country you plan to visit for their specific requirements. Most of the time, the first step that you will take is to dock in a port of entry designated for Customs and Immigration in the country that you are attempting to enter. This port is where an officer from the country you are visiting will check your vessel and those on board for documentation and legal status. 

Assuming you are all clear to enter the country, your documentation will (of course) be returned, and you will be permitted to then continue to explore the location that you have just arrived to. Soon it will be time to enjoy some new cuisine and local adventures on foot.

  1. Check-In with Customs and Immigration. At many ports of entry, there will be a Customs officer who will work around the clock and will come to your boat upon your arrival. In other countries, you will need to call a phone number that will be posted so that the officer on call will arrive. There is no universal law that requires one or the other option, so most Customs and Immigration offices choose what works best for them, their staff, and their resources. 

Regardless of their choice, you do not have one. You must be inspected by a Customs officer prior to entering and enjoying the new land.

Attempting to avoid approval through Customs and Immigration is illegal and could land you in some extremely difficult legal battles.

  1. Permit Customs Officer to Check Documentation of Passengers and Boat. After the Customs officer arrives, he or she will generally proceed to check the ship and the passports and/or visas of all people on board. The Captain will be responsible for collecting the documentation and presenting it to the Customs officer. If this is you, be sure that you have this ready. If you are the passenger, then be sure you have your documentation ready so that you can provide it to the Captain upon his or her request.

Typically, the Customs officer will return to his or her office to seek approval for all persons to enter the country. Sometimes this can take quite a bit, especially if you have many passengers with you, so accept this ahead of time, and be patient. Assuming each person is approved, your vessel, itself, will be checked next.

  1. Present or Obtain Visas if Required. Visas can be required to enter a country for a specific period, but each country varies with its protocol. For example, some countries require Visas and others do not require them at all. Along the same lines, some countries expect you to come prepared with your Visa already approved and received, while other countries will permit you to obtain the Visa upon your arrival.

It is extremely important to plan ahead as Visas can cost a considerable amount if you do not have one and are required to pay additional fees upon your arrival. Since countries that require Visas will not let you come in without them, this is super important if you are planning to do anything outside of sit on the boat in the port.

Be sure to note the specific requirements based on your country of origin as this will cause different requirements to be put in place for your entrance.

  1. Provide Proof of Ownership. Boats can be held up in Customs and “arrested” or confiscated in the same manner that people can be. Although this is not a frequent occurrence, it is still important to be prepared with all of the legal documentation required of you and your boat. You will need to provide proof of ownership for your boat and will be required to show its “numbers” or identification. This indicates to the Customs officer that your vessel is safe and cleared for passage. 

Additionally, the Proof of Ownership could be requested of you (the Captain) in any area including international waters.

While you do not necessarily need a Visa or Passport for international waters, it is always a good idea to be prepared for a situation where you may need these documents- just in case.

  1. Declare Items On Board Your Boat. In addition to the documentation for the vessel and the people on board your boat, you will need to declare any items that you are bringing along with you. This will require you to know the value of all items (in other words, how much the items are worth) on your ship as well as what exactly they are. This is to ensure that the items you have with you are both safe and legal in the country.

Most countries will reject agriculture that is being brought along as it can disrupt the local ecosystem, so be sure that this has been approved beforehand if you are carrying along any foreign plants or produce.

If you really need to bring that special, exotic fruit you just found on your ship, just go ahead and digest it prior to entering the next country.

While you may already be aware, one of the commonly rejected items is guns and ammunition. These items can be obtained legally in the United States, but there are significantly more restrictions in almost every other country.

Be sure to do your research rather than have your weapons (that may be legal while living in or visiting the United States) seized in foreign territory.

  1. Complete Customs Forms Per the Country’s Requirements. Generally, this portion of the Customs check will require you to complete forms provided by the country’s Customs office. This is similar to the form that you complete when flying into a new country. This is typically the form that you will write the name, quantity, and value of each item that you plan to bring with you into the country.

This form, as well as the other documentation that you are required to bring, may seem like a lot. You can always bring a safe or box on your boat with you so that you can keep it all straight and organized.

Further, be sure to have researched all of the documentation that the countries you are planning to visit will require. Not being prepared could cost you extensive fees or even the opportunity to enter the country at all.

Can You Travel The World In A Boat? (Legal, Passport, Visa)

What Countries Should I Avoid if Traveling the World in a Boat?

There may be a variety of reasons that you are aiming to avoid a country when traveling the world in a boat. While some countries are safer than others, it is important to consider your reasons for avoiding the country.

Are you avoiding a country due to unsafe waters and risks of harm or due to limited cultural knowledge and lack of desire to accept differences? The difference here matters as you will either need to consider the reality of the involved risks or expand your cultural horizons.

If you are aiming to reduce your risk of harm, you may consider countries that may have travel bans or are currently in a state of war or hardship.

While some of the most beautiful countries could tempt you with their endearing cultural practices and lifestyle, it is unwise to travel to a country while it is in the middle of hardship or war.

Not only could you be turned away at the port of entry, but you could put yourself and fellow passengers at risk.

Additionally, piracy is still a reasonable consideration for a risk of harm to you and your passengers. Though the illegal practice is not as common today due to international laws and regulations, pirates are still out there.

Some areas that have been known for increased piracy risks as of late as told by the United Nations include the region near Somalia and Guinea. 

Other risks of harm may include rough weather or areas that are known to host particularly rough storms, like the area around Bermuda or the northern Atlantic Ocean. In the case of weather, that is not always predictable in the amount of time you are planning your trip to when you would hit the area, it is important to stay as up to date as possible. 

Do research when you are at port in another country. Monitor the weather as it continues to roll in. Contact officials with your VHF marine-grade radio for updates. Completing your research ahead of time will help you to stand on guard for the upcoming water that you will be traveling in.

If you are looking to avoid a country because the culture is far more different than what you have ever been exposed to before, and you think you may not like it, consider a variety of ways to become more open-minded.

After all, you have just embarked on a journey across the world- it would be a shame to sail around it and never to experience the variety that various cultures can offer you. 

Try stepping outside of your comfort zone even once while limiting harmful risks and see where it takes you.

When you are confident that there will be no harm done to you by trying a new type of food, exploring a new way of dressing, or exchanging broken conversation with a stranger, then go ahead and engage with the culture that is surrounding you.

It is amazing what can happen when we open our eyes to the world and all that its people can share.

Another Option for Traveling the World in a Boat: Use a Freighter

Another Option for Traveling the World in a Boat: Use a Freighter
Can You Travel The World In A Boat? (Legal, Passport, Visa) #travel

Perhaps you have limited experience sailing the ocean blues, or maybe you are looking for a less exhausting method of travel.

With limited decision making (as far as navigation is concerned) and an agreement to abide by the rule of flexibility, traveling the world using a freighter (or cargo ship) may be the right choice for you.

Passengers can board most freighters for less than $200 (U.S. dollars) per day.

Generally, the crew of the cargo ship will be less than 15 people and the travel pace is rather speedy as the vessel is transporting items for business purposes; the quicker it travels, the more efficient it becomes, and the more profitable its services are for the buyer and seller of the items it carries.

To use a freighter to travel the globe, you will need to remain flexible. If the vessel changes routes or destinations, do not be surprised.

The freighter will go where the business is which means that it could change drop-off or pick-up location. Therefore, it is imperative to have your passport and vaccinations up-to-date once you know the general route that the vessel will take.

This type of travel will not offer you extensive on-board entertainment, but it will allow you to explore the world on a budget. Most cargo ships that permit additional passengers will also offer three meals per day as the crew has to eat as well.

You can expect to dine well, but perhaps it is best not to expect a 5-star meal in comparison with some of the top cruise lines.

Traveling the world on a cargo ship will also provide you with a spacious housing situation. Most cruise lines do not provide much capacity for living and moving considering their profits are on the number of people they bring onto their ship.

However, cargo ships (freighters) make their profits off of the goods that they bring along. So, if there is room for you to come aboard, you can expect that it will not be as squished as a cruise line (especially a budget cruise) might be. 

If you have an open mind and are willing to roll with the punches, this might be a good option for travel for you. It is best not to plan this type of trip with a large group of friends as many cargo ships do not allow groups of large quantities to board.

Kids may not be welcome either, as there could be large equipment that is not appropriately stored away as would be on a boat that is accomodating for passengers.

However, you can speedily reach a variety of countries, enjoy the open skies and waters, and thoroughly enjoy the perks of traveling the world by boat on board a freighter.