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This page has two parts. The first part applies to crews with permission to reside in the EU. This includes non-EU citizens with residential permits. Your boat must be VAT/TVA paid.
The second part applies to non-EU visitors to Europe from "friendly" nations. Your boat may visit the EU for 18 months, and renewing that stay is easy. But your crews may only spend 90 days out of any 180 within any individual country, and the Schengen zone counts as one country.
Regulations, and their application, sometimes conflict. And some officials apply rules variably. Expect surprises. If you're puzzled about which are EU countries or EEA countries, what the Euro zone is, or what Schengen countries are, refer to our 'EU, Schengen & Countries' page.
As for who deals with what:
UK citizens likely to stay more than 90 days continuously in another country, or more than 182 days out of 365 in another country, should read UK government advice on living abroad.
Personal Tax Residency. Any person who spends more than 182 days a year in one EU country is regarded as tax resident in that country. In some (Spain) this is a calendar year. In others, it's a tax year. In yet others, it's 183 days in any 365 (FAQ: 183 is more than 182 . . !). These are matters of fact. Tax residency can also arise if you have a business establishment in a country, or work there, or earn income there, irrespective of the time you spend there. If you can't prove otherwise, and seem to spend a lot of time in a country, the authorities are entitled to assume you are a tax resident. The onus of proof then shifts to you to show if you are not a tax resident. HMRC publishes guidance on the circumstances in which UK tax residence may/may not apply.
If you become tax resident of another EU country, your means of transport (cars, caravans, motorcycles, airplanes, and boats) spending more than 6 months a year in the country need to be "imported" - ie, meet local regulations, including paying local circulation taxes (more). To arrange this, customs authorities in the new country should be notified. Otherwise, penalties may apply. Obtain local tax advice on your situation.
Your Boat's Residency (or car). As above, EU directives allow that EU "means of transport" spending more than 6 months a year in another EU country should be "imported", even if you are not a tax resident. The purpose is to make them pay taxes and dues that locals pay. Import may be temporary, keeping the same country of registration, or permanent, changing registration to the new country. A consequence of "import" is that equipment fitted must meet local standards, and this may include obtaining local certificates of competence/licences.
This directive has been implemented for cars. Conveniently, many countries have chosen not to apply this directive to boats - as long as you are not locally tax resident. On arrival in a new country, if you plan to base your boat there for more than 6 months a year, check if the boat has to be imported.
There may be additional country specific payments if you keep a vessel in a country, become a tax resident and don't notify the authorities. For instance, in Spain, if you're late reporting such a situation, you'll have to pay a one time 'pollution tax', about 12% of the vessel's value.
People - Administrative Residence (that 90 days . . .) EU passport holders may travel freely throughout the EU, affected by two issues; tax residence (above) and 'administrative residence' (in UK this was the common law concept of "ordinary residence", for tax purposes replaced by these statutory provisions in 2013). Administrative residence nominally changes after 90 days continuous absence from - or presence in - another EU country (more). Since travel within the EU is not tracked, reporting a change of administrative residence is a matter of personal convenience - important only if you are considering migrating for a longer term.
Medical Residency. If you're registered with a GP in UK (whatever your nationality), and travelling within the EU, you will be entitled to varying degrees of treatment free of charge. You prove this entitlement by carrying an EHIC. NHS treatment policies for visitors and residents in UK are clarified in National 'Elf UK Entitlements . When travelling within the EEA with an EHIC, levels of cover depend on the country you are visiting.
Any non-EU visitor, or an EU visitor to a non-EU country, must note dates stamped in their passports or given in visas. Leisure or tourist permission to visit friendly countries will typically allow 90 days, or any 90 days within 180 days. Such personal limits apply independently of the boat's permission to stay. Exceeding a permission will usually elicit a fine, and a ban on re-entry for a period.
Extended Tourist Visas/passport stamps. Longer permissions to stay in a particular country for leisure or tourism can be applied for before-hand through that country's embassy. For mutually "friendly" countries, one year visitor permits are possible. For example, US citizens can apply for one year French tourist visas (not residence permits), while New Zealand residents have similar concessions for many European countries. It is also possible for "friendly" nationalities (already visiting with a Schengen passport stamp) to obtain an extension for the country they are visiting. Extended permissions apply only to the one country; visits to other individual Schengen countries revert to the maximum of 90 days per 180. However, open borders within Schengen means there is no mechanism to track this limitation.
Schengen countries count as one country as far as visa timing is concerned. The typical 90 day visitor's visa or passport stamp allows you to spend not more than 90 days per period of 180 days within the Schengen zone. If you collect an entry stamp, collect an exit stamp when you leave to prove you haven't overstayed your welcome (as well as keeping proof of time outside the zone). 180 days after your first entry, you may apply for a new visa. There is a proposal to introduce a one year "touring visa" . . .
No Passport Stamp? A non-EU visitor entering Schengen by leisure boat may sometimes not get a passport stamp. If so, you don't have free circulation within the Schengen zone. The assumption is that you are accommodated on the boat, and will leave the country by boat. If you expect to leave Schengen by air, ferry or train, or to spend a night ashore, insist on having an entry stamp. Without it, on exit, you could be fined for illegal entry and not permitted to re-enter for a period (makes it difficult to pick up your boat!)
Residence Permits. To extend 90 day limitations, it is possible to obtain a residence permit. However, EU residents are not permitted to use a "Means of Transport" (includes your boat) which are not VAT paid! An exception to this is if you are moving your normal home from a non-EU country to an EU country. You may then import your vessel free of customs duty and VAT subject to certain time limitations (see para 3,15 of this document).
Conditions for residence permits or extended visiting permissions vary depending on your own nationality, and the nation you wish to stay in. You will need to establish the purpose of your stay, and prove you have the money to support your stay. It is usual for such applications to be made from your home country. It is rare for applications to be accepted when you are already in a country (Turkey is a useful exception). Enquire directly from an embassy of your intended host country.
For the sake of simplicity, our advice is generalised and conservative. For exceptions, look at individual country pages.
Reviewed December 2016