France - Formalities
Update January 2016: Due to the current situation with regard to the number of migrants and refugees attempting to enter Europe, a number of Schengen Area countries have re-introduced border controls. Therefore, it is advisable that cruisers now check with the official authorities when entering or leaving a country.
While at sea it is also advisable that any sightings of refugee/migrant boats be immediately reported to the appropriate Coast Guard via VHF. This is especially important if it is necessary to rescue any whose life is in danger.
As a member of the European Union, EU regulations apply. In principle therefore boats coming from another EU country do not have to clear Customs, although they have to report to Immigration. The situation is more relaxed when the traffic is between EU countries that have adhered to the Schengen Agreement, so boats sailing to France from Spain or Italy are not required to clear Immigration.
The situation is different for non-EU boats, or those with non-EU nationals on board. In such cases, on arrival in France, the captain should report to Customs at a Port of Entry with the ship's registration papers and passports. In some places Customs will visit the boat on arrival. Customs may also inspect yachts up to 12 miles off the coast.
The port captain should be contacted immediately on arrival in a marina or port, and he will call Customs. Alternatively, the skipper should phone the Customs office himself.
In some ports, officials will visit the boat (whether from the EU or not), as soon as it docks and inspect all documents (passports, boat documents, Certificates of Competence etc.) They may also inspect the equipment on board.
Last updated January 2016.
Passports must be valid for 3 months beyond your intended stay.
France is a member of the Schengen Agreement Area. See Noonsite' Schengen page for more details on the visa rules which apply.
Do you need a visa?. This is an official site with full details of visa requirements and how to apply. In French, English, German, Arabic and Chinese.
American cruisers on the OCC Forum report that getting a French long stay visa (LSV) for one year duration was possible, as long as you can comply with all the paperwork required (including emergency evacuation and repatriation for your time spent in France and a marina/boatyard contract - French address).
Last updated January 2016.
Firearms must be declared.
EU regulations apply concerning temporary importation. See EU VAT page for more information.
Note: Noonsite has received a report from a cruiser that French Customs do not recognise that a boat can be placed 'in bond' to extend the 18 month period of Temporary Importation for non-EU boats.
Boats which are borrowed, chartered or owned by companies can be brought into France under temporary importation, but only if the same person who brought the vessel in remains in charge and takes it out of the country again.
Anyone borrowing a yacht must have a letter from the owner stating that permission has been given for the yacht to be used in his or her absence. Crew changes are allowed while in France only if the same person remains in charge. The only changes of owner or captain allowed are on privately owned yachts, where the person in charge may hand over control to a member of the immediate family, namely spouse or children, who must not be resident in France.
A co-owner may hand over to another co-owner, who is listed as such on the ship's papers. Delivery crews may bring in a yacht for the owner to take over, or sail a yacht out of France on behalf of an owner, as long as a proper delivery agreement is made, which the authorities may wish to see. The yacht being delivered is not allowed to stop anywhere else in France except its entry and exit points, unless forced to by weather conditions.
Yachts may not be lent, hired or sold while in French waters while under temporary importation. Those in breach of any of these conditions, will be liable for tax on the value of the yacht.
Chartering: Only bareboat charters are permitted and if the yacht is foreign owned, proper formalities must be completed. Taking on paying crew is not permitted, as this is considered to be chartering. If a yacht has paying passengers, this must be declared to Customs on arrival in France, the yacht imported and TVA (Value Added Tax) must be paid.
Spot checks are made, even on EU registered yachts, and all the paperwork checked.
Last updated September 2016.
Yachts must carry their original registration document, insurance policy and ship's radio licence. For British yachts, the French authorities will accept the SSR document. They are very strict about registration certificates, and some boats have been fined for not having a satisfactory document. One member of the crew must have a radio operator’s certificate of competence. For EU boats, proof of VAT status is also required.
There are various canals which cross France, still used by commercial traffic as well as yachts. All vessels using the inland waterways and canals must be in possession of a valid VNF sticker (Voies Navigables de France), which can be bought for an entire year or shorter periods.
The Atlantic and Mediterranean are connected by a canal route of 314 miles (503 km) with 139 locks, from Bordeaux on the River Garonne, to Castets where the Canal Latéral à la Garonne runs to Toulouse, from where the Canal du Midi leads to Sète in the Mediterranean. Other canals and river systems go into the heart of Brittany, through the centre of Paris, the eastern part of France and the Rhône river to the Mediterranean. The Northern France waterway can be entered at Dunkerque, Calais, Gravelines or St Valéry-sur-Somme, while the Brittany Canal runs from the English Channel to the Bay of Biscay through 63 locks from St Malo via Dinas, Rennes, Redan and the River Vilaine.
Whereas in the past there was no charge for the use of the waterways (with a few local exceptions) cruisers report in 2008 that costs can be as much as several £100's.
Yachts must unstep their masts, which can be done at the seaports before entry into the canals, there usually being facilities which specialise in this operation. There are certain maximum restrictions, the most important being the draft, which is normally 6 ft (1.80 m) on the main waterways from the English Channel to the Mediterranean. The Canal du Midi has a minimum depth of 5 ft 4 in (1.60 m) while the canals in Brittany have a maximum draft of 4 ft (1.20 m). A yacht drawing up to 10 ft (3 m) with a maximum height restriction of 20 ft (6 m) may be taken up the Seine as far as Paris. On all other canals and rivers, the maximum headroom is 11 ft (3.50 m) and in some places as little as 8 ft (2.50 m). There are variations and the level of water can be greatly reduced following a dry winter. The maximum speed limit is 16 mph/25 kmh on the rivers, 3.7-6.25 mph/6-10 kmh on the canals. Chemical toilets and holding tanks are compulsory.
The French Tourist Office should be contacted for a list of chomages (stoppages), obtainable from the end of March onwards, which details any canals or locks closed for repairs during the year.
Tolls are due on waterways managed by Voies Navigable de France (VNF). Licence disks (vignettes) must be displayed visibly displayed stbd side forward. These are obtainable:-
- online in English from www.vnf.fr/vignettesVNF/accueil.do - pay on line by Visa, Masercard or Eurocard
- by post from VNF Offices listed on the website - allow 2 weeks
- over the counter (cash only) from 34 listed VNF offices
. Licences are valid for one year (Jan-Dec), 4 consecutive months, 30 consecutive days, 16 consecutive days or 1 day.
Captains can now be liable for any breaches of the law regarding operation of jetskis and tenders belonging to their vessel, even if he or she was not personally involved in the incident.
If prosecuted this would involve a court hearing with the following potential penalties:
· A fine of up to €30 000 maximum
· Up to six months imprisonment
· A ban from French Territory for at least 1 year
Be aware of speed zones and other restrictions in the areas of France you are cruising.
France accepts animals which come under the Pets Travel Scheme (PETS) Cats and dogs must have an anti-rabies vaccination certificate (dated at least 30 days in advance and within 12 months of date of entry). A Health Certificate from a veterinarian within 5 days of travel to or from France. French residents returning to France may need to get a Health Certificate from an international vet if staying in a foreign country for more than 5 days. Other animals must be inspected by a health official on arrival. Animals under three months old are now allowed. A maximum of three dogs and/or cats may be brought in.