This article has been sitting in my drafts for two months now. I went back and forth with the idea of publishing it. I hate to spread negativity about a country but at the same time, my blog is all about being real and showing all sides to travel, the good and the ugly.
My experience doesn’t at all reflect the country as a whole. Barbados is a beautiful island and I would never want to discourage anyone from visiting. This is just my experience trying to obtain a drone license.
So here we are. The time I jumped through hoops and spent over £120 trying to obtain a drone license in Barbados but never received it.
I trudged down the narrow aisles, clumsily clipping my backpack on the seats as I passed. The shrill squeal of plane engines rang in my ears as I stepped ever closer to the plane exit. Shuffle, shuffle. I could feel the passenger behind me breathing down my neck. Up ahead I saw bright sunlight glistening through the open plane door and made a determined attempt to join the queue that lead to the exist, battling passengers trudging in the opposite direction.
The engine squeals grew ever louder until I was finally free. My foot landed on the rickety metal stairs and I took in my first gulp of Caribbean air. I was blasted at once my a stifling gust of wind and relished in the heat. Finally, I was here!
We left the humming of aeroplanes behind us as we made our way to the arrivals hall. I was more than delighted to be offered a small cup of rum by a group of smiling women. “Rum or sorrel?” They chimed in synchrony. Don’t mind if I do! It would stem my nerves a bit. I’d been dreading going through immigration.
It had been many, many years since I last visited Barbados. The immigration hall was now dotted with snazzy new machines. All you had to do was slot your passport in, have your photo taken and answer a few questions via the touchscreen.
If only it was that simple.
I stood facing the machine which glared back at me with fluorescent white light. I stared into the camera, willing it to just take my picture and get things over with already. But no. The machine seemed to enjoy keeping me waiting, apparently unable to identify my face. Seconds turned into minutes and I was getting rather agitated. Suddenly, click. Yes!
The machine rapidly printed off my photograph and I clasped it to my dismay. I had never seen such an ugly photo in my life. One eye was wide and rolling back so you could see little more than whites and the other was half closed. My lips were parted slightly and my tongue was sticking out to the side. My head was tilted back, making my chin look the size of Everest. Honestly! The machine couldn’t recognise me and then finally decided this was acceptable? Did I now have to pull this face at the immigration desk just so they’d let me into the country?
We were called to the immigration desk.
Cheerily, I placed mine and Lewis’ passports on the desk and gave a friendly greeting, “Hello!”
I was met with stone-cold silence. The woman didn’t even look up from her desk.
Seconds passed. “Open them.” She ordered.
Taken aback by her curt tone, I obeyed.
“Push them through.”
Was she honestly unable to do anything herself? I bit my tongue, feeling irritated and pushed the passports through the hole in the glass window.
I left the immigration desk with a sour taste in my mouth, and it wasn’t the rum.
It was now the moment I had been dreading.
I scanned the arrivals hall for the customs office. There were three walkways including the ‘Nothing to Declare’ and the ‘Items to Declare’. I would sadly be declaring an item today. I walked over to the people at the desk nervously.
“I have a drone.” I announced.
I quickly began fumbling for my paperwork, my last-ditch attempt at getting my drone to Barbados. My heart was beating furiously against my rib-cage and in my nerves I only handed over half my papers.
“This isn’t a license.” The immigration officer bellowed.
“I know.” I replied calmly, attempting to hide my nerves. “I think you’re meant to sign a paper for Telecommunications.”
He nodded and began scribbling on a piece of paper. “You need to go to the Telecommunications office and give them this. They should then give you the license and then you need to come back here to collect your drone.”
This is exactly what I didn’t want to hear. The past few months I had done absolutely everything in my power to try and prevent this from happening. But in the end, it had all been futile.
“Are they open now?” I asked.
He laughed. “No.”
“What about tomorrow?” Tomorrow was Saturday.
Again, he shook his head.
“But I leave on Sunday. How will I get it?”
“You leave on Sunday?” He frowned.
My eyes dropped to the ground. “I guess I can’t get it.”
He didn’t correct me.
The paper was stamped and handed to me and they took my drone away.
What Are Barbados’ Drone Laws?
Drones are Banned in Barbados
The last few months has been a nightmare.
I was only passing through Barbados. My main destination was a nearby island called Dominica. Dominica is an island which is a haven for drones with no strict regulations. Dominica is off-the-beaten-track and has no international airport, therefore a direct flight from Manchester was not an option. My journey to Dominica was taking me through Barbados. It was an 8 hour flight to Barbados and then a further 1 hour flight to Dominica. Due to the flight timetable, I had a lengthy 2 night stay in Barbados which I thought would be a pleasant addition to the trip.
The catch is that Barbados has some of the strictest drone regulations in the world. Drones are in fact banned in Barbados and for no good reason that we are aware of. Word on the grapevine is that it’s to value the privacy of celebrities as Barbados seems to attract them in the masses. The thing is, the resorts have huge influence on the government as they’re raking in all the cash. It is in the resorts’ best interests to ensure their customers are happy and have a lovely stay on the island. Rumour has it, anyway. The real reason? Well, we may never know.
Now I’ve been travelling with a drone for over 4 years now and am well acquainted with dealing with the complexities that comes with them. I follow all tips and advice when it comes to travelling with a drone. This article has some useful tips when travelling with a drone. But nothing had quite prepared me for this experience.
You Can Apparently Obtain A License if you Follow some Steps…
But it’s not a clear-cut ban. You can obtain a license to fly a drone in Barbados. But, not surprisingly, this involves paying a government organisation. A money-making scheme, no doubt.
I knew you could apply for a license. The information is plastered all over the Barbados Telecommunications’ website. I’ve paid for drone licenses in the past and had straight-forward experiences. I didn’t expect this would be any different. So I booked my flights to Barbados.
Forums online told me there are 2 ways to obtain a license. Firstly, you can do it as you arrive in Barbados but this method involves customs seizing your drone after giving you paperwork, you have to travel 30 minutes to the capital and get the license and then return back to the airport to collect the drone. Long-winded and rather outdatedly-pointless. Secondly, you can email them the filled in form and post the cash or cheque to their offices.
Forums are just forums; you never know if what you are reading is true. I wanted to verify this with Telecommunications myself.
My Experience Trying to Obtain a Drone License in Barbados
At once I emailed Telecommunications via 6 different email addresses, all readily available on their site. Only one got back to me after a few days, a woman – I don’t want to name and shame anyone so let’s just call her Telecommunications lady. She told me I just needed to fill in a form and then send over $17 USD or $30 Bajan dollars. This could be made via cheque or cash, no other method. My first thoughts are that this seems rather archaic. I asked if I could post the cash and if so what address should I send it to.
The Telecommunications lady replied about a week later with an address. This seemed like the green-light to send the money.
I must admit, as I stood in the post office paying £10 for my letter to be sent tracked and signed, I felt worried. Including postage, that could well be £25 down the drain. Still, I had no reason to doubt the Telecommunications lady, especially when people on the forum were celebrating being sent their licenses.
Two weeks passed. I decided to check the tracking only to my horror see that it had been rejected and returned to sender due to the reason ‘no longer at this address.’ My £10 on postage was completely wasted. Plus, what if someone had just taken the money and sent the letter back?
Of course, I emailed the Telecommunications lady asking for an explanation. I didn’t get one. I didn’t even get a reply.
So far, 4 weeks had been wasted. I had carefully tried to get my license in advance to make sure everything ran smoothly so that my trip was stress-free but this was turning into a nightmare.
After 3 weeks of being ghosted by both the Telecommunications lady and the entire Telecommunications team, I decided to look at their website for any updates. Indeed they had moved address. So between the Telecommunications lady confirming the address with me and the letter arriving, they had actually moved offices. Did the Telecommunications lady not think to warn me they were moving soon? Or was it a spur-of-the-moment decision to move offices?
I decided to try again but this time to the updated address. This time I posted my $17 USD via DHL, a 2-3 day service which cost me a staggering £50. I was desperate to get my license so that my drone wasn’t seized. I just wanted a relaxing holiday!
2 days later, the letter was signed for but still no one at Telecommunications had the decency to email me. Adding to this, my other letter was still lost in limbo! I was £90 down and still had no license.
I was due to fly to Barbados in a mere 2 weeks-time and no one was getting back to me. I had already invested so much into it, I felt I had to get this license. So I started ringing them. 10 times the number rang out and not a single soul answered. Then after days and days of trying, I got through to someone, a senior officer.
I could tell that the last thing the senior officer wanted to be doing was being on the phone to me, or probably doing any work at all. He told me it was not possible to email or post me a license because they needed a signed paper from airport customs. What? This was not what I read online or informed by the Telecommunications lady (although to be honest, she was coming across as incredibly uninformed – I mean, she didn’t even know they were moving offices) When I told him I had already sent the money all he could say was, “If customs reject it, you can pick up your money from our offices.” No way was I going to spend the entirety of my one day in Barbados driving to his office. It would cost me that much in petrol. What an absolute farce of a system.
I asked him when the offices opened and his rude reply was “It’s on the website.” It in fact was not on the website. The senior officer had no intentions of trying to be reasonable so I gave up and received a £30 phone-bill for all my failed international calls to Barbados.
Conclusion: I was Scammed
There are no two-ways about it. I was scammed by utter incompetence and the most terrible customer service I have ever received in my life.
In case you were wondering, I did receive my drone back when leaving the island, although that was such a faff it requires an article in its own right.
As upset as the situation left me, my terrible experience with the Telecommunications team had no reflection on my experience in Barbados as a whole. Everyone else who I met on the island was so incredibly friendly and welcoming. The locals I spoke to also were horrified at my treatment and rightly so.
It was an extremely disappointing experience and my advice to anyone looking to take a drone to Barbados would be not to bother.