JimB Sail newsletter

Once every few months we'll email you about site additions and cruising news - unless you unsubscribe, of course!

Subscribe to JimB Sail newsletter feed

Immigration and Customs regulations for EU, Schengen and specific 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 (€). Carriage of  more than €10,000 cash, travellers cheques or negotiable bonds is subject to controls.

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 and residents move freely within the area. Otherwise, Schengen countries share common immigration control. Enter any one, and you have free movement within the zone.

Non-EU citizens are subject to "Schengen visa" restrictions on their period of stay within the zone. Currently this permits a maximum of 90 days in any 180 days. The stay is monitored by issuing a passport stamp (for "friendly" country citizens), or a pre-applied for visa (if your country is on a "control " list).  Some non-EU citizens (New Zealand, for instance), have automatic rights to stay for longer periods in individual EU/Schengen countries. Otherwise, applications may be made from your home country to stay in individual Schengen countries for longer visits. France, for instance, will give permission for US citizens to visit for up to a year.

An EU proposal to issue a "Tourist Visa" (subject to application and conditions) will extend this to one year (or exceptionally two) provided stay in any individual country does not exceed 90 days. This proposal will come into force some months after unanimous agreement is reached, expected some time in 2016 - or later!.

5.  Non-EU Countries.  Depending on your citizenship, each non-EU country has its own rules about personal entry and exit, controlled by visas and passport stamps. For  nations "friendly" to your nationality, a passport stamp issued at entry will typically be valid for 90 days within any 180 day period. For "less friendly" countries, such a passport stamp permitting entry will only be given if a visa has already been issued.  Ask your appropriate embassy for details, which change from time to time.

6. No Visa? For UK nationals, the Foreign Office web site gives current travel and immigration advice, listing countries where previously issued visas will be required. 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.  Leisure boat crews arriving in USA without US passports or without previously issued visas will be turned away. Check before you visit!

Visa? Residence Permit? Over-Stayed?

EU citizens may freely visit other EU countries. Otherwise immigration is controlled by the visa or stamp noted in your passport at entry. All Schengen zone (see above) is treated as one coherent country. Longer term visas are available (residence, student, business) but must be applied for from the relevant embassy in your home country.

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. EU regulations provide that visiting boats 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 (and this includes non-EU nationalities with EU residence permits) are not permitted to use vessels which are not VAT paid 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: many helpful corrections to this page by Dave, "GoBoatingNow", from http://www.cruisersforum.com, and from YBW forum members.


Updated Jan 2017, JimB



To save yourself money (and help pay site costs) buy discounted charts and pilot books through our Book Store

Alternatively, send me the price of a beer or two through PayPal