Cayman Immigration & Entry Requirements

This section provides detailed information on the Immigration and Entry requirements needed to become legally resident in the Cayman Islands. We discuss in detail the 9 ways of becoming legally resident in the Cayman Islands and we cover such topics as 'Term Limits', 'Work Permit Dependants' and the 'Point System' which is used in relation to becoming a permanent resident. More...


The Cayman Islands were first sighted by European explorers on 10 May, 1503, owing to a chance wind that blew Christopher Columbus' ship off course. On his fourth trip to the New World, Columbus was en route to the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) when his ship was thrust westward toward "two very small and low islands, full of tortoises (turtles), as was all the sea all about, insomuch that they looked like little rocks, for which reason these islands were called Las Tortugas."

The two islands were Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. A 1523 map showing all three Islands gave them the name Lagartos, meaning alligators or large lizards, but by 1530 the name Caymanas was being used. It is derived from the Carib Indian word for the marine crocodile, which is now known to have lived in the Islands. This name, or a variant, has been retained ever since.

An early English visitor was Sir Francis Drake, who on his 1585-86 voyage to these waters reported seeing "great serpents called Caymanas, like large lizards, which are edible." It was the Islands' ample supply of turtle, however, that made them a popular calling place for ships sailing the Caribbean and in need of meat for their crews. This began a trend that eventually denuded local waters of the turtle, compelling the local turtle fishermen to go further afield to Cuba and the Miskito Cays in search of their catch.

The first recorded settlements were located on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, during the 1661-71 tenure of Sir Thomas Modyford as Governor of Jamaica. Because of the depredations of Spanish privateers, Modyford's successor called the settlers back to Jamaica, though by this time Spain had recognised British possession of the Islands in the 1670 Treaty of Madrid. Often in breach of the treaty, British privateers roamed the area taking their prizes, probably using the Cayman Islands for replenishing stocks of food and water and careening their vessels. During the 18th century, the Islands were certainly well known to such pirates as Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Neal Walker, George Lowther and Thomas Antis, even after the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, was supposed to have ended privateering.

The first royal grant of land in Grand Cayman was made by the Governor of Jamaica in 1734. It covered 3,000 acres in the area between Prospect and North Sound. Others followed, up to 1742, developing an existing settlement, which included the use of slaves.

On 8th February, 1794, an event occurred which grew into one of Cayman's favourite legends, The Wreck of the Ten Sail. The convoy of more than 58 merchantmen sailing from Jamaica to England found itself dangerously close to the reef at Gun Bay, on the east end of Grand Cayman. Ten of the ships, including HMS Convert, the navy vessel providing protection, foundered on the reef. With the aid of Caymanians, the crews and passengers mostly survived, although some eight lives were lost.

The court martial of the fleet's leader, Captain Lawford, revealed that a current had unexpectedly carried the fleet 20 miles north of its course. The incident underscores how common shipwrecks have been in the history of the Islands, and how much Caymanians themselves have depended on the sea.

The first census of the Islands was taken in 1802, showing a population on Grand Cayman of 933, of whom 545 were slaves. Before slavery was abolished in 1834, there were over 950 slaves owned by 116 families. Emancipation paved the way for development of a homogeneous society.

Though Cayman was always regarded as a dependency of Jamaica, the reins of government by that colony were loosely held in the early years, and a tradition grew up of self-government, with matters of public concern decided at meetings of all free males. In 1831 a legislative assembly was established comprising two houses: the eight magistrates appointed by the Governor of Jamaica and ten elected representatives or vestrymen.

The constitutional relationship between Cayman and Jamaica remained ambiguous until 1863 when an act of the British parliament formally made the Cayman Islands a dependency of Jamaica. When Jamaica achieved independence in 1962, the Islands opted to remain under the British Crown, and an administrator (in 1971 the title became Governor) appointed from London assumed the responsibilities previously held by the governor of Jamaica.

Cayman Islanders have a tradition of hardiness and independence of spirit, which sustained them through many difficult years when their home was sometimes referred to as "the islands time forgot." In those years, they earned a livelihood at sea, either as turtle fishermen or as crew members on foreign-owned ships, or by working in North and Central America. In 1906 more than a fifth of the population of 5,000 was estimated to be at sea, and even as late as the 1950s the government annual report said that the main "export" was seamen whose remittances were the mainstay of the economy.

Since those days the economy has grown in remarkable fashion, to be a model envied in other parts of the region. Over the last 30 years, governments have pursued policies aimed at developing the infrastructure, education, health and social services of the Islands, fostering the stability which is an important factor in the continued growth of Cayman's two main industries, tourism and financial services. 

Arriving in the Cayman Islands

Prohibited items include:
  • Narcotics: The importation or possession of any illegal drugs, including marijuana (ganja), is a violation of Cayman Islands law. All violators will be arrested and prosecuted by the proper local authorities.
  • Firearms of any kind, Spearguns: This includes pole spears or Hawaiian Slings.
  • Vegetation: Live plants, cuttings, raw fruits and vegetables are restricted due to the risk of diseases or harmful insect pests (for restricted items, import permits are required).


Some discussions group encourage people to take their own pre-packed (sealed) food to Cayman in freezer bags or ice chests. The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism has advised that visitors are allowed to bring meat into the islands, but you may be charged duty if the value is over US$35 per person, or the quantity exceeds what customs consider to a reasonable amount for personal consumption. Meat should be preferably be packed and sealed as sold in supermarkets, and may have to be inspected by an official from the Department of Agriculture.

The ban on the importation of US bone-in meats imposed in December 2003 following a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or 'mad-cow disease') has been lifted. Personal imports of meat up to 5kg for personal consumption will now be allowed providing the original packaging is intact and the packaging bears the USDA inspection legend.

Following is a link from the Cayman Islands Agriculture Department, which set out general rules as to the importing food and meat products.

Click here.

Leaving the Cayman Islands

It is prohibited to bring any plants, seeds, vegetables, or fruits into the United States unless you have an official permit from US Customs. Otherwise, these items will be confiscated by Customs at US gateways.

The products made from the farmed green sea turtles at the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm are offered primarily for local consumption. The importation of genuine sea turtle products is prohibited by any country that has signed the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (1978) (CITES).

These countries include the USA, Canada and the UK. In addition, US Customs prohibits the shipment of turtle products through the U.S. Any product found will be confiscated.

Returning to the United States

What you must declare...
  • Items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return to the United States.
  • Items you received as gifts, such as wedding or birthday presents. Items you inherited.
  • Items you bought in duty-free shops, on the ship, or on the plane. Repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then brought back, even if the repairs/alterations were performed free of charge.
  • Items you brought home for someone else.
  • Items you intend to sell or use in your business.
  • Items you acquired - whether purchased or received as gifts in the U.S. ,Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or in a Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act country that are not in your possession when you return. In other words, if you acquired items in any of these island nations and asked the merchant to send them to you, you must still declare them when you go through CBP. This differs from the usual procedure for mailed items.


You must state on the CBP declaration, in U.S. currency, what you actually paid for each item. The price must include all taxes. If you did not buy the item yourself - for example, if it is a gift - get an estimate of its fair retail value in the country where you received it. If you bought something on your trip and wore or used it on the trip, it's still dutiable. You must declare the item at the price you paid or, if it was a gift, at its fair market value.

Joint Declaration

Family members who live in the same home and return together to the United States may combine their personal exemptions. This is called a joint declaration. For example, if Mr. and Mrs. Smith travel overseas and Mrs. Smith brings home a $1 ,000 piece of glassware, and Mr. Smith buys $600 worth of clothing, they can combine their $800 exemptions on a joint declaration and not have to pay duty.

Children and infants are allowed the same exemption as adults, except for alcoholic beverages.

Duty free Exemption

The duty free exemption, also called the personal exemption, is the total value of merchandise you may bring back to the United States without having to pay duty. You may bring back more than your exemption, but you will have to pay duty on it. In most cases, the personal exemption is $800, but there are some exceptions to this rule. There are also limits on the amount of alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products you may include in your duty-free personal exemption. For example, a returning resident eligible for the $800 exemption includes not more than 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars. No traveler may import Cuban origin goods, including Cuban Cigars unless authorized to do so by a specific license. One liter (33.8 fl. oz.) of alcoholic beverages may be included in your exemption if:

  • You are 21 years old.
  • It is for your own use or as a gift.
  • It does not violate the laws of the state in which you arrive.


Federal regulations allow you to bring back more than one liter of alcoholic beverage for personal use, but, as with extra tobacco, you will have to pay duty and Internal Revenue Service tax.

While Federal regulations do not specify a limit on the amount of alcohol you may bring back for personal use, unusual quantities are liable to raise suspicions that you are importing the alcohol for other purposes, such as for resale.

If you are returning directly from anyone of the 24 Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act countries (which does not include the Cayman Islands), your exemption is $600: If you travel to the Cayman Islands and to one or more of the Caribbean Basin countries (for example, on a Caribbean cruise) you may bring back $800 worth of items without paying duty. But only $600 worth of these items may come from the Caribbean Basin country(ies); any amount beyond $600 will be dutiable unless you acquired it in the Cayman Islands or another non-Caribbean Basin country.

Useful telephone numbers

Cayman Islands Customs Department - (345) 949-4579

Cayman Islands Agriculture Department – (345) 947-3090

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