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On October 10, 2010, the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved as a political entity, although the constituent islands of Bonaire, Curacao, St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius remain part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. As a result, each island sets its own regulation for the import and taxation of vehicles.
St. Maarten, the only duty free port in the Caribbean, is the most attractive island for import, with no tax on incoming cars. In Curacao, duties of 27 percent are imposed on car imports where the owner has been registered for less than a year. Duty is charged on the CIF value of the car, calculated from its price + insurance + freight cost. Electric vehicles, however, are exempt from duty, while hybrid cars are taxed at 10 percent. The same is true in Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius, which charge 25 percent duty on imported cars, but nothing for low- or zero-emission vehicles.
Documents required to import a car include the Vehicle Export Power of Attorney, which authorizes the shipping company to deal with U.S. Customs on behalf of the owner, the Vehicle Declaration Form, Letter of Authorization (LOA), which authorizes the shipper to act as forwarding agent and to submit Electronic Export Information (EEI), the Hold Harmless Waver for damaged cars, the Original Title or Manufacturer's Statement of Origin (MSO), and the Bill of Sale for new cars.
The islands of the former Netherlands Antilles are primarily a used car market, particularly St. Maarten where there are no restrictions on emissions or fuel economy for the vehicle inspection. Typically, cars are brought down from the States by individual buyers and dealerships and sold at a significant mark-up. Nevertheless, several Japanese, Korean, U.S. and German car manufacturers have a presence on the island.
Curacao is the only island so far to embrace electronic or hybrid cars, but these still make up a tiny percentage of the market. In all islands, gas is relatively cheap and distances covered short, so fuel economy is a minor consideration. On the other hand, the harsh climate and poor road conditions mean that Japanese and Korean cars are a popular choice, particularly for taxi fleets.
While St. Maarten is saturated with more than 40,000 cars on its 37 square miles, leading to frequent gridlock, Saba and St. Eustatius have barely any traffic, meaning that services are limited. Drivers in need of repairs typically have to order spare parts from the U.S.
Japanese cars form the majority of Bonaire's fleet, with Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Suzuki representing the majority of vehicles. As in Curacao, duty is not charged as long as the vehicle ownership has been registered for at least a year.
One of the main agencies serving St. Maarten and the Eastern Caribbean is Crowley Agencies, which handles freight from Port Everglades, Florida. The agency handles the entire shipping process, including logistics, customs and clearance.
Dammers Group is one of the oldest shipping agents in the southern Caribbean, covering Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, an area which has the advantage of being outside the hurricane belt that affects operations to St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius from June to December.
Saga Transport handles shipping between St. Maarten and the smaller islands of Saba and St. Eustatius, with a network of individual agents on each island.
Caribtrans manages freight between the islands, having taken over from Tropical Shipping.
Sea Star Line ships cars from the U.S. to numerous Caribbean islands; one of the few to offer a Roll on/Roll off service outside Puerto Rico.
From Europe, the Netherlands Antilles' closest affiliation is with the Dutch port of Rotterdam, but shipping costs are extremely high compared to importing a vehicle from Florida.
Apart from notable exceptions such as Kingston, Jamaica, the Caribbean is still characterized by small-capacity ports with limited infrastructure. An estimated 95 percent of the world's container ships are too big to service Caribbean ports, for example. No Netherlands Antilles port, in fact, ranks in the Caribbean's top 20 ports for cargo movement. Similarly, the number of agencies and shipping lines serving the Caribbean is in decline, while the number of vessels operating between the Caribbean and the Pacific is in single figures.
The two main shipping ports in the former Netherlands Antilles are Philipsburg, St. Maarten, and Willemstad, Curacao. The former is a major shipment hub for the Northeast Caribbean, with connections to Saba and St. Eustatius, and regular service from Florida. Some of the major cargo lines serving St. Maarten are CAGEMA, CMA-CGM, Crowley Lines, Seatrade, and Tropical Shipping, which also has a monthly sailing from Nagoya.
Curacao is in the southern Caribbean, served by shipping companies from Miami (weekly), Cartagena, Colombia, and the Seatrade service from Dover and Hamburg in Europe, which takes 15 days.
The ports in Saba and St. Eustatius are both tiny and unable to support container cargo. Cars are delivered first to St. Maarten and transferred by ferry to the islands.