With these fees, it’s not necessarily better in the Bahamas


Caroline Courbois has been a regular visitor to the Bahamas since the 1960s — before, as she puts it, “crime became their number-one product.”

Decades ago, when she touched down in Nassau for the first time, she remembers that her ticket included everything. All taxes and other fees were rolled into the price of her fare.

Ah, those were the days.

When she looked at her ticket recently, she found a $20 ‘Bahamas Departure Tax’ for flights to the U.S. “In addition, there was a $20 Bahamas Airport Facility Fee, plus a Bahamas Security Tax of $7,” she says.

“I wonder where these outrageous fees for departure tax, airport facility fee and security tax end up?” she asked. “Just curious.”

That’s a fair question, given the recent discussion we’ve been having about airline taxes in the United States and “transparency.” And let’s not forget the airline industry’s efforts to redefine “transparency” so that they can quote a lower, but unbookable, fare.

Courbois’ question isn’t easy to answer, unfortunately. Like the rest of the Caribbean, departure taxes have been steadily rising as islands depend on them for revenue. The Bahamas Customs Department, the island’s principal revenue collection agency, accounted for roughly half of the total revenue collected for the Bahamas.

And it’s not an insignificant amount.

For the fiscal 2014/15 year, the Bahamas expects to collect $125 million in tourism taxes, of which roughly $50 million are air departure taxes. That doesn’t include about $21 million in hotel taxes.

Where does the money go? From what I can tell, these fees are used to pay for essential government services. In other words, when you enter and leave the beautiful Bahamas, you’re funding the Commonwealth — not unlike what happens in other popular destinations that rely on tourism.

I asked a representative of the Bahamas to help me with some of the history of the fees, and to explain what the taxes are used for. I never heard back. Perhaps the official was too busy trying to figure out how to raise taxes again.

I’m only half kidding. Last year, the Bahamas upped taxes for private planes. And this October, the island’s air departure taxes will climb to $29.

As to the question of where the money goes, I think you’d have to be a forensic accountant to know for certain. But maybe we can say where it doesn’t go.

“It certainly isn’t used to enhance the experience for travelers and appears not to be contributing to the welfare and well-being of Bahamian residents,” Courbois observed.


I, for one, think destinations like the Bahamas have taken their taxes too far. They’ve become — wait for it! — a little ridiculous. (If so, they’re not alone; you don’t have to look far — to the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe — for equally preposterous taxes on travelers. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Certainly, unless the government can do a better job of explaining why their taxes are necessary, and why they have to keep getting raised, this just smacks of opportunism. They have visitors over a barrel, and they know it.

Wanna vacation in the Bahamas? Pay the ransom and you can enjoy their gorgeous white sand beaches and pristine coral reefs. Don’t pay, and you can always take a staycation.

Are the Bahamas' tourism taxes justified?

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  • DonnaW

    Try renting a car at an airport here in the US if you want to see ridiculous fees that take advantage of visitors. Or try an Alaskan cruise. Visitors don’t vote in these places so local politicians figure they can stick it to them and get by with it. Looks like the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands have decided to get their share. And our only option is to stay home :-(.

  • marquisofmississauga

    When I last flew into the US from Canada I paid four taxes to the US government. A dedicated tax for airport and security operations is fair. Someone has to pay, so it may as well be the people who use it. But I was curious why air travellers – and not those who enter by car, train or bus – have to pay an immigration tax, a customs tax and an agriculture tax (whatever that is). On my last flight the amounts were, respectively, $7.47, $5.87 and $5.34. For my return to Canada from a recent trip to Britain I would have had to pay, in addition to the justifiable taxes and fees for airport operation, an “air passenger duty” of $260 per person. Instead I came back by a Cunard ocean liner and paid only the usual port charges.

  • Gary Lapp

    Because they can, travelers do not vote (except by there dollars and feet). You want to come here, pay or stay away. When the area hurts because tourist go elsewhere it may change. But the same is true in the US. Airport car rental and hotel rentals, Franchise fee, energy fee, stadium fee, convention center fee, lic fee for car, airport recovery fee, transportation fee, occupancy fee. (or all are taxes, depends on where). “Don’t tax you or don’t tax me, tax the man behind the tree”

  • Lori Bruns

    This is common in most countries where tourism is primary revenue producer. What bothers me more are the places that don’t pre-collect the tax with the ticket cost. That leaves plenty of people scrambling for $ at the airport (some won’t accept credit cards). Know before you go!
    Here is some basic info – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Departure_tax
    Just remember that anything that a government can collect a tourist tax for will be taxed. Taxes to Europe are much higher and can be more than the ticket cost sometimes. Giving a developed country like Great Britain $118 in taxes is more bothersome to me than $20-30 to other smaller countries. On a ticket to LHR the taxes total $711 rt (including US taxes too)

  • Frank Clarke

    “Are the Bahamas’ tourism taxes justified?”

    Ask the wrong question; get the wrong answer.

  • TonyA_says

    Justified? To whom, Americans? Why do they have to justify airport taxes to Americans?

  • $16635417

    I’m not understanding the issue. Weren’t these taxes disclosed at the time of ticket purchase?

  • pauletteb

    It’s not like we don’t do the same thing with hotel and car rental taxes right here in the good old USA. I’ve frequently paid some sort of tourist tax above and beyond the state and/or municipal tax — often to pay for a sports stadium I’ll never visit or some equally ridiculous money pit.

  • sirwired

    I’m not sure how this is any different from the litany of charges attached to a car-rental or hotel bill in busy tourist destinations.

    And I also don’t see how we can point to the taxes and say “They go here”, or “They don’t go there.” I expect that, like most government tax collections, it goes into the general fund and are distributed however the government sees fit.