If you are thinking about sailing your boat into European waters there are a number of factors you need to consider which should be planned and organised in advance.
This page covers:-
1) The Schengen Area, what is it and how long can you stay.
2) Temporary Importation (TI) of non EU boats and how long can you stay before import tax is payable.
3) What certification skippers are expected to have by some countries, although not required by their home country.
4) Certificatation required if transiting the inland waters of Europe.
5) Regulations affecting boats permenently imported into the EU.
6) Requirements if you wish to bring your pet with you to the EU.
7) Two sections with useful reports and links to other sites.
Currently there are 28 member countries in the European Union.
Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark(excluding Greenland); Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; United Kingdom
With the UK having started the process of leaving the EU, by 2019, the situation will have changed. Noonsite will advise users of how it will affect them once the details are clear.
Last updated April 2017.
What is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Area Agreement came into force in 1995. This Agreement links all member countries with a consistent visa policy and therefore a Schengen visa issued by any country under the Schengen rules will be valid for travel in all the Schengen countries. This means that one visa alone will enable the bearer to travel in all the Schengen countries.
Not all European Union countries are signatories to the Schengen Agreement.
Current members of Schengen Area (coloured blue & green) are:-
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
European and Mediterranean countries not part of the Schengen Area are:-
United Kingdom, Ireland, Croatia, Cyprus, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.
There are, of course, other Mediterranean countries which are outside the Schengen Area, but which may not be safe to visit at present.
Short Stay Visits to the Schengen Area
A short stay visit (whether a visa is required or not) to the Schengen Area by non-EU citizens is now defined as a total of 90 days' stay during the preceding 180 day period.
It is important to remember this restriction when contemplating an extended cruise in northern European waters and/or the Mediterranean if you, or a member of your crew, is a non-EU citizen.
As previously explained, the 90 days does not have to be continuous as it is a total of 90 days during the preceding 180 day period. If you follow this link to European Home Affairs website you will find a link there to a very useful 'Short-Stay calculator' which will enable you to work out the days you can stay in the Schengen Area.
Applying for a Schengen Visa
If a Schengen visa is required, then an application must be made to the Embassy or Consulate of the country where your first port of call in the EU is located. Applications should normally be made to the Embassy in your home country, so pre-planning is important as your passport will have to accompany your application.
See this Schengen Visa Application form for all the information required.
Applying for the visa once you have left your home country is very difficult indeed. Not entering the Schengen Agreement Area through the country specified on your application as your point of entry can also cause difficulties.
Travel insurance, including medical cover and repatriation, is also required when you apply for a Schengen visa.
What if I want to Stay for Longer than 90 days without a Break?
Noonsite has investigated extensively, but currently it is not easy to legally extend your stay for longer than a total of 90 days in any 180 day period. The EU does have plans (we have been advised) to introduce a 'Touring Visa', but as with all thing EU, don't hold your breath!
However, for some nationalities it is easier than others. In some countries it is possible to obtain a visa extension (even when it is not necessary to actually have a visa for the first 90 days) or a Long Stay or Resident's Visa. The rules for this vary from country to country, but most limit the visa to 12 months and require evidence that you can support yourself and that you will not work. Some of the countries limit your stay to the one country, others allow you to move freely throughout the EU. However, you must both enter and leave from the country granting the visa. It is best to contact the embassy of the chosen country to find out details and to do so before leaving your home country.
One thing to be aware of, is that if you have any type of resident's visa, you cannot use your boat in the EU unless it is vat paid.
What if I want to cruise the Med for 6 months or More?
One way to stay longer in Europe is to make use of the countries that are not part of the Schengen Agreement. Since your 90 days does not have to be continuous, by ducking in and out of the Schengen Area, the 180 day period can become a moveable feast with some careful planning. Using the Short Stay Calculator on the European Home Affairs website page can help you do this.
Basically, you will have to carefully plan your trip so that you spend some time outside the Schengen Area (Turkey, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, Tunisia, Morocco etc.) before returning to the Area to continue cruising (Greece, Italy, France, Spain etc.). It is particularly important that your movements in and out of the Schengen Area Countries are recorded (i.e. with a passport stamp) and this may not always be easy in some ports. For example, read what we say about difficulties encountered in Malta at this link Noonsite/Immigration/Malta.
How long can I keep my boat in the Schengen Area?
The rules applicable to how long the boats themselves may be kept in a Schengen country depend on whether it is a member of the EU. See EU VAT/Import Duty section below for more details. Norway and Iceland are not members of the EU. See Norway Customs and Iceland Customs for more information.
In summary, a non-EU flagged boat with a non-EU shipper can remain continuously in the EU itself for up to 18 months without paying VAT and each time you leave the EU that 18 month clock re-starts.
Nationals NOT Requiring a Schengen Visa for Stays of Up to 90 Days
Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United States, Andorra, Argentina, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Singapore, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela.
NOTE: Citizens of non-EU countries who do not require a visa to visit a Schengen country, are still usually (but not always - see the paragraph above) subject to the 90 day limit in 180 days in the whole Schengen Area
Nationals NOT Requiring a Schengen Visa for Any Length of Stay.
Citizens and residents of the EU, Norway and Switzerland.
Who Else can Stay for Longer than 90 days?
Nationals of countries with bilateral agreements with specific countries within the Schengen Area which pre-date the Schengen Agreement, are permitted to spend up to 90 days in EACH in each of these countries with no reference to time spent in the rest of the Schengen Area.
Such bilateral agreements are known to exist with:-
Australia (covering Denmark and Germany)
New Zealand (covering Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland).
Other 'friendly' countries such as USA and Canada, may also have such agreements.
It may be worth having some evidence of this ruling as not all Immigration officials are aware of these exceptions.
Nationals Requiring a Schengen Visa for any length of stay
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Burma (see Myanmar), Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic), Congo (Brazzaville), Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia , Fiji Islands, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti , India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgystan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Micronesia, Moldavia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Northern Marianas (Islands), North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, São Tomé and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, West Samoa, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A copy of the Schengen visa application form can be found on this website: www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en.
Another useful site explaining about Schengen Visas is www.schengenvisainfo.com/
Last updated April 2017.
Some Frequently Asked Questions about the temporary importation of private non-EU vessels for use in the European Union.
What are the basics?
Non-EU vessels which are intended for re-export may be temporarily brought into and used for private purposes in the EU, or more strictly in the "Customs territory of the Community", (which includes our territorial waters), without Customs duties or Value Added Tax (VAT) needing to be paid. But this can only be done by persons who are not EU residents - in official terms - by people who are "established outside that territory". This facility is thus NOT available to EU residents whatever their nationality.
The boats concerned have to be placed under the "temporary importation procedure" (TI) with Customs and the period of use in the EU is limited in time. When the time is up the boat has to leave, in official jargon this period is called "the period of discharge". The re-exportation of the goods from the Customs territory of the Community is the usual way of ending or "discharging" a temporary importation procedure. If the boat does not leave before the end of that time, then Customs duty and VAT become due.
A boat is temporarily imported into the EU and not into one of the constituent Member States. Thus it can move from one Member State to another with no further Customs formalities during the 18 month period allowed.
It needs to be emphasized that the 18 month TI period only applies to privately owned, non-EU yachts and sailed by non-EU owners or skippers. If an EU owner or skipper sails a non-EU registered boat, then there is now, in practice, no period of TI.
How can a yacht be placed under TI?
Just crossing the frontier of the Customs territory of the Community is in general sufficient. But, you may be required to use a route specified by Customs and they may require you to make an oral or written Customs declaration. It is possible they may require the provision of some kind of security or guarantee to cover the payment of the Customs duties and VAT that become due if the boat does not leave the EU.
How long can the yacht stay in the EU?
Normally, you can use the vessel in the EU for 18 months. In technical terms, the period for discharge for privately used means of sea and inland waterway transport is 18 months. This is laid down in the provisions of the EU Customs Code. If the boat is "laid up" ("put in bond") for a time the possibility exists for not counting the period of non-use (see below).
Yachts registered in Norway, Iceland or Liechenstein and sailed by non-EU citizens are permitted a period of 6 months sailing and up to 6 months laid up in any 1 year.
Update January 2016 - Re Greece!
Greece has now repealed the law that previously stated that the transit logs issued to non-EU boats was not extendable from 6 months to the normal EU limit of 18 months. So it now conforms to the EU TI rules.
Can I sail in the EU for the Whole 18 months?
The short answer is 'no'. The TI rules state that after 6 months the skipper (but not the boat) must leave the EU for 185 days before returning to skipper the boat again. However, with the proper authority from the owner, a different (non-EU resident) skipper can use the boat during this period. It must be noted, though, that as far as Noonsite is aware, only some Greek Customs officers actually apply this rule.
Can the 18 months be extended if the yacht is not used? You may want to go home for Christmas!
Yes, the eighteen month period may be extended for the time during which the yacht is not used. The EU Customs Code allows for this. However, the maximum overall period during which the yacht can remain in the EU is 24 months.
However, Noonsite has been advised that France Customs do not offer such an extension, nor do they recognise any paperwork recording the boat being 'in bond' issued by other Customs authorities.
What Other Restrictions Are There?
Yachts may be temporarily imported for private use only. Under temporary importation a yacht may not be hired, sold or lent to a resident of the EU. Immediate relatives of the owner may use the boat if they are resident outside of the EU. The boat may be used occasionally by a EU resident, when acting on behalf of the owner and when the owner is himself/herself in the EU.
The VAT relief also applies to the importation of spare parts and accessories to effect repairs or maintenance. This relief only applies to yachts registered outside the EU and owned by a non-EU resident.
Does the 18 month Rule apply to All Non-EU Registered Boats?
Not if the owner is resident in the EU.
Can you have another period of Temporary Importation? How long must you wait?
Yes, you are not limited to a single period of temporary import. You can sail the yacht out of the EU and when you came back again for another holiday a new period of temporary importation can begin. The Customs rules do not provide for a "minimum period" during which the goods must remain outside of the Customs territory of the EU. It is wise to obtain documentary evidence that time has been spent outside the EU. Leaving for a very short time and returning to the same country may be regarded as an abuse of this regulation and is best avoided.
Where can you find the legal texts?
The legal provisions on temporary importation are found in:-
© European Communities, 1995-2003, 2016
This is only a simple explanation of the law and is not comprehensive and some of the rules have been amended since the original rules were drawn up. Noonsite does its best to keep this information updated.
(May 2013): Not all Customs Authorities are familiar with the above. There have been cases of boats being impounded in Portugal and charged VAT by Customs authorities who do not recognise that the U.K. Channel Islands are outside the EU and its Customs area, and who also clearly believe that one 18 month period is the TI limit, and you cannot exit and then re-enter the EU to re-set the TI clock. Be wary.
Gibraltar - Although Gibraltar is outside the EU VAT customs area, it is part of the EU and the Temporary Importation (TI) clock for non-EU boats starts on entry to the port. Nor, therefore, should Gibraltar be relied on to re-set the TI clock.
This is the 'official' position. In practice some Customs offices regard visiting Gibraltar as being outside the EU and regard the TI 'clock' as being re-set after a visit there.
When is VAT Payable?
VAT is due:-
If a non-EU boat remains in the EU beyond its Temporary Importation relief period (maximum 2 years if part of it is in bond).
If a non-EU boat is sold within the EU.
If a boat is used by an EU resident.
If a VAT-paid boat leaves the EU for more than 3 years and is not returned by the same owner or has more than running repairs done while away.
Paying EU VAT on a Boat
A VAT-paid boat can remain permanently in the EU and be sailed by anyone, whether an EU resident or not.
The amount of VAT to be paid is based on its current value. It is payable at the first port of call once the tax is due. It is, therefore, wise to consider the most advantageous country in which to import the boat. There is not so much variation in VAT rates as there used to be, so it will more likely depend on how sympathetic a valuation can be obtained and how easy the process proves to be.
Buying a Boat in the EU
All new boats should have the VAT element of the purchase price shown separately on the Bill of Sale.
2nd hand Boats sold between private buyers are not subject to VAT but it is essential that proof of its VAT paid or VAT exemption status is provided. It is not advisable to buy a boat without this evidence unless you are prepared to pay the VAT due.
Updated April 2017.
For current EU VAT rates see Noonsite/VAT Rates page.
For a list of VAT Authorities see Noonsite/European Union/VAT Authorities page.
Last updated January 2015.
Many officials in European countries expect to see some type of certificate of sailing competence even though the skipper's flag state does not require them to have one. Many charter companies will also require one. For Europe, it is particularly useful to have a European International Certificate of Competence (ICC).
What is "Proof of Competency" and What Does it Cover?
The International Certificate of Competency (ICC) is a set of standards drawn up by a committee of The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (Resolution 40). It is designed to be recognised throughout Europe and has various categories covering sail boats, power boats (up to 10m or up to 24m), inland and coastal waters.
Who Issues It and How Do I Get One?
Each country which has signed up to the UN Resolution 40 can issue it for its own citizens and residents. This is usually done by the national yachting or boating association. It is granted by a) passing the appropriate theory and practical exam, or b) by holding a similar or higher recognised qualification.
What if I am not a Citizen or Resident of a Resolution 40 Country?
The good news is that anyone who is not a citizen or resident of a country not signed up to resolution 40 (e.g. USA, Canada, France etc.) can obtain an ICC by passing the appropriate recognised course. The UK's Royal Yachting Association and International Yacht Training both have sailing schools world-wide where such a course can be taken. See www.rya.org.uk/wheresmynearest for a list of the RYA centres and www.iytworld.com/index.php/schools for those of the IYT.
VHF Radio Regulations for European Inland Waterways
If you sail through inland waterways in Europe, you may need an ATIS capable VHF radio with a valid ATIS code.
ATIS, (not to be confused with AIS), stands for Automatic Transmitter Identification System. This system is used on inland waterways in various countries in mainland Europe. At the end of every transmission the radio sends out a unique FFSK data signal, which contains the user or ship's unique ATIS call sign, this identifies you to marine coast stations and inland stations.
RAINWAT is the "Regional Arrangement Concerning the Radiotelephone Service on Inland Waterways" which, through the Basel Arrangement, has introduced the Automatic Transmitter Identification System (ATIS) for vessels making VHF transmissions whilst on the inland waterways of the signatory countries:
Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia; Czech Republic; France; Germany; Hungary; Luxembourg; Moldova; The Netherlands; Poland; Romania; Slovakia; Switzerland; Serbia & Montenegro.
The Radio Communications authority of a boat's flag country is responsible for issuing the ATIS number which then has to be programmed into a ATIS-enabled VHF radio.
Mandatory Skipper's Licence for the Inland Waterways
If boating on the inland waterways of Europe (canals and rivers beyond the first sea lock), the skipper must be in possession of the CEVNI (Code Européen des Voies de Navigation Intérieure), endorsement to their International Certificate of Competence (ICC).
Many of the canals and rivers of Europe are serious commercial highways and it is essential to be familiar with the rules and regulations which apply to boats using them.
Last updated April 2017.
European Union Recreational Craft Directive (RCD)
Since 16 June 1998 all recreational craft with few exceptions, between 2.5 metres and 24 metres in length, imported into the European Economic Area (EEA) for the first time, and home-built boats if placed on the market within five years of completion, must comply with the essential requirements of the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) and must be CE marked. The EEA includes all EU countries plus Iceland and Norway.
Boats that will need to comply with the Directive and be CE marked include:
Boats built outside the EEA which were not put into service in the EEA prior to 16 June 1998. Put into service means the first use by the end user but does not include boats put temporarily into service for reasons of tourism or transit.
Boats built for own use if subsequently placed on the EEA market during a period of five years of completion. Placed on the EEA market means the first making available against payment or free of charge
Boats that do not need to comply with the Directive include:-
Boats completed or put into service in the EEA (and territories*) prior to 16 June 1998.
Boats built in the EEA prior to 16 June 1998 even if exported and subsequently re-imported after 16 June 1998.
Boats built for own use provided they are not subsequently placed on the EEA market during a period of five years.
Boats intended for racing and labelled as such by the manufacturer, his agent or the importer.
Canoes kayaks, gondolas, pedalos, sailing surfboards, powered surfboards and personal watercraft.
Boats designed before 1950, built predominantly of the original materials and labelled as such by the manufacturer, his agent or the importer.
A useful website to consult on this is http://britishmarine.co.ukAnother useful website on getting a boat CE marked if importing from America is www.cemyboat.com.
Most pets can be moved around Europe if they comply with the regulations of the Pets Passport Scheme.
For more information about the European Union, try their "user-friendly" website at http://europa.eu/index_en.htm