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Immigration and Customs rules for EU, Schengen and other countries

Many countries bordering European water are united into groups with common regulations. Some of these regulations which affect boats are listed in our "Regs and Paperwork" pages. The European Union (EU) allows free circulation of goods within the union - including boats. The Schengen zone is a smaller group which allows free circulation of people - an immigration matter affecting crews, but not affecting boats. Countries outside any European Organisation - such as Turkey, Tunisia or Morocco - are useful for non-EU crews wishing to extend their stay in the Mediterranean.

European Organisations; courtesy Wikipedia:

Country Groups

1.  The European Union (EU) are 28 countries whose goods and citizens move freely between the countries when using "approved means of transport" (airlines, ferries and roads). EU tax residents must have paid VAT (a form of consumption tax) on any vessels they cruise. Periods of grace are allowed for permanent export. Yachts which have not paid VAT may visit the EU up to 18 months under "temporary import relief" (TIR). After a provable period of absence from the EU (it only needs be a day) a new period of TIR may start. If a boat is to be imported, or used by EU citizens, it should pay VAT in its destination country. Non-EU crew crew will find immigration rules a far greater restriction on their stay.

2.  The European Economic Area (EEA) adds Iceland and Norway to the EU free trade area

3.  The Euro Area comprises 16 EU countries which share a common currency, the Euro (€). If you are carrying more than €10,000 cash, travellers cheques or negotiable bonds, read this.

4.  The Schengen Zone is a group of mostly EU countries (UK and Ireland opt out, while Cyprus and Croatia and others are in the queue to join), plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Leichtenstein. EU citizens move freely within the area. Schengen countries share common immigration control. Enter any one, and you have free movement within the zone - subject to "Schengen visa" restrictions on your period of stay.

For "friendly" other nations a passport stamp issued at entry will be valid for 90 days within any 180 day period. For "less friendly" countries, such a passport stamp permitting entry will not be given unless a visa has already been issued. Passport stamps limit the time non-EU citizens who are live-aboards may legally cruise within the zone. Some non-EU citizens (New Zealand, for instance), have automatic rights to stay for much longer periods in certain EU/Schengen countries. Otherwise, applications may be made from your home country through embassies for longer residence permits before entry. 

5.  Non-EU Countries.  Depending on your citizenship, each non-EU country has its own rules about personal entry and exit, controlled by visas. Boat permits are separate, controlled by cruising permits. Visas may be just a passport stamp given on entry. However, some countries require permission in advance. Ask your appropriate embassy for details, which change from time to time. If you arrive without a visa when it is required (say, due to emergency) you will normally be confined to the port area, maybe told to leave within some time limit. In the Levant, you may be turned away at the 12nm territorial water limit. For UK nationals, the Foreign Office web site gives current travel and immigration advice.

Visa? Residence Permit? Over-Stayed?

EU citizens may freely visit other EU countries. Otherwise immigration is controlled by any visa or stamp noted in your passport at entry. All Schengen zone (see above) is treated as one coherent country; see above for usual conditions of entry. Longer term visas are available (residence permits). A few countries insist that visas must be obtained before arrival if you are not using "approved means of transport" (such as a leisure boat). USA is a painful example; you'll be turned away! Others countries (Russia, Levant and some African countries) similarly insist on prior permission before arrival. Enquire of the appropriate embassy in your home country before your trip.

Attempts to exit a country or Schengen by "approved means of transport" (ferry, some trains, airlines) by anyone who has overstayed risk a fine, and a passport stamp "not permitted re-entry" for a period of time. Those who have no entry stamp will be treated as illegal immigrants, and may be detained. There's no such control if you exit by yacht, but if you intend to re-enter Schengen, make sure you record your exits with immigration - otherwise, you clock up an overstay. Slightly more detail on this subject.

Some Wierdos.

  • Norway is within the Schengen area, part of the EEA, but not in the EU. There are limitations on how long vessels (including EU vessels) may stay in Norwegian waters.
  • The  Isle of Man although outside the EU, is inside the customs union, no formalities.
  • Channel Islands are outside the EU, but within the customs union. However,  customs formalities are needed when entering, and UK requires customs reports from boats entering from the Channel Islands. 
  • Gibraltar, a UK territory, is inside the EU but outside the customs union; customs clearance required when entering, or entering another country from Gibraltar.
  • Ceuta and Mellila are Spanish cities on the Moroccan coast, part of the EU, but not Schengen.

Tricks, and Traps for the Unwary

  • Non-EU boats visiting the EU may stay for up 18 months without paying VAT or import duty under "temporary import relief" (TIR) provisions. Some EU countries document the boat's entry, others don't. The boat may only be used by its owners or nominated crew. TIR can be renewed by proving the boat has been (briefly) berthed outside the EU customs union. Independent visa restrictions will apply to people on board.
  • EU residents (except in very limited circumstances) are not permitted to use vessels which are not VAT paid (entered under TIR) within the EU. Vessels registered in Gibraltar, the Channel Islands and other non-EU flag countries which have EU crew aboard are thus often asked to show proof that VAT has been paid.
  • When travelling between non-EU countries, or to and from the EU customs union, all vessels should fly the Q flag when within 12nm of the destination coastline. The Channel Islands (inside the customs union) and Gibraltar (outisde it) are both customs controlled in this way. However, there is lax monitoring of this rule when re-entering France or Spain. 
  • Documents showing you have visited Israel or N Cyprus may result in their neighbours refusing you entry.
  • Israel, Syria will not normally allow you to enter territorial waters (12nm off the coast) without prior notification.
  • Algeria and Libya will often investigate vessels within 12nm of their coastlines

Detail for specific Countries

Some "country regulations" pages are reached from the right hand menu. These are popular cruising destinations which are particularly organised (or disorganised for that matter) about their cruising regulations. The pages give best information available at the time of publication. Some also contain useful reference material for visitors - dialling codes, time zones, currency, ATM availability and any unusual cultural issues. For UK residents, the Foreign Office web site gives per country advice on visas, security, and civic regulations which may affect you, as well as listing current threats (if any) .

Acknowledgements: may helpful corrections to this page by Dave, "GoBoatingNow", from http://www.cruisersforum.com

Updated 24 March 2014, JimB



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