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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) is a customs union, which allows free circulation of goods (including boats). The Schengen zone is a smaller group which allows free circulation of people (crews, different rules!). A useful group (if sometimes prickly) are countries outside any European Organisation.
1. The European Union (EU) are 27 countries (28 when Croatia joins, Jul 2013) whose goods and citizens move freely between the countries when using "approved means of transport" (airlines, ferries and roads). Crew lists may be required from UK yachts entering the Schengen zone. 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 visiting the EU (which have not paid VAT) may stay in EU countries for 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 starts. A boat being imported should pay VAT in its destination country. The length of time which non-EU crew may stay in the EU may be far more limited by their visas
2. The European Economic Area (EEA) adds Iceland and Norway to the EU free trade area
4. The Schengen Zone is a group of 26 countries, of which 22 are EU (UK and Ireland opt out, while Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria are in the queue to join), plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Leichtenstiein. 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 visa/stamp issued at entry will be valid for any 90 days within 6 months of your first entry. You must leave before the 6 months is up, but may enter again after the 6 months is finished establising a new "first entry" (reference here).This visa limits the time non-EU citizens who are live-aboards can cruise within the zone. UK and Ireland (and 5 other EU members) are not part of the Schengen agreement.
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. The Foreign Office web site gives current travel and immigration advice for UK nationals.
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", USA for instance. Others do not issue visas at the border (Levant and some African countries). Enquire of your own embassy.
Not having a visa (when you should have one) risks being treated as an illegal immigrant. This usually occurs if a police incident arises, or if you leave a country by air or ferry. A typical penalty is usually a fine (or detention if you prefer!) and a period when re-entry is denied. Book into a country before thinking of flying out!
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