Greece and Croatia: Formalities Update

The catamaran “Water Dogs” and her Canadian family crew have been cruising in the Mediterranean for over a year, succesfully doing the “Schengen Shuffle”. After being tied to the dock for 3 months in Greece, they have now sailed north to Croatia to move out of Schengen but remain in the EU. Here father Gavin French talks about the paperwork, bureaucracy and time involved in getting out of Greece and into Croatia.

Published 2 years ago

“Water Dogs” on the quay in Sivota, Lefkada, Greece.

We sailed from Lefkas, Greece to Croatia at the start of February, 2021.


Greece remains in total lockdown since November 7th, 2021, and we had been tied to the dock for three months.

Leaving Greece:

The rules actually prohibit permission to leave Greece unless you are 1) bound for a shipyard to get work done, or 2) leaving for your home port. The port police will stamp your crew list and transit log giving permission to depart for only one of these reasons, and they advised there was a 5000 euro fine if sailing Greek waters without permission.

However, I explained that we needed to leave Shengen due to our nationality allowing 90 days in 180. This involved a conversation with many staff, eventually working its way up to the second in command of the port police. He ultimately gave me permission to depart Greece with no special papers required. I was told that a quote from a shipyard in Croatia would have worked too. They did not seem to think I could have been reasonably leaving for my home port in Canada, but I expect that would work as well.

Sivota Bay, Lefkada, Greece.

Lockdown and payment of the ETEPAI:

As an aside, the customs office interprets living on your boat during lockdown as “using” your boat, in terms of a non-Greek boat in Greek waters. As such they say the ETEPAI (cruising tax) must be paid in full as per normal in spite of lock down. Some boats took their original ship registration papers to the port police, left them there, got a confirmation piece of paper, and took this along with their transit log to the customs office and thus paused their time in Greece and did NOT have to pay the tax. It seems there is some grey area around the interpretation of “immobility” or “out of use” status. The key seems to be just not mentioning whether you will continue to live on the boat while it is tied up and give the port police your registration document. This strategy of taking boat papers to the port police and remaining in port has been used by many others pre-Covid as a way to remain in Greece during winter months without their transit log clock ticking and without paying cruising tax. We got stuck paying in full.

TI Transit Log:

Also note, in terms of non-VAT paid boats with non-EU skippers, Greek customs issue a temporary importation TI transit log for 18 months. This is done with no consideration of how long the boat has already been in EU waters. Thus you can arrive in Greece having been in the EU for 17 months already, and be granted an 18 month temporary importation transit log (this I have witnessed).

However, they only allow the registering skipper to use the boat for six months, then they must leave Greece for six months, then they can return and use it for a last six months before the boat must leave. This was confirmed by two different customs offices as the Greek interpretation of temporary importation law and Greek tax law. However, I was advised by local cruisers that getting around this seems to be quite easy. They say you close your transit log prior to the six months, sail out of the country, and sail back in again opening a new transit log. This has apparently been done by leaving as briefly as one day and returning to the exact same customs office and officials.

Gavin French and crew in Dubrovnik.


Current Rules:

Here are Croatia latest rules updated Jan 13th 2021:

The rules are concise and brief.

We chose Croatia because it is in the EU, but not Schengen. Thus we remain inside the EU and are not subject to being treated as arrivals from “third countries” with the consequent increased restrictions. But also we chose Croatia because these latest rules allow you to enter as per pre-Covid terms, regardless of citizenship, if you arrive directly from an area of the EU currently listed as green on the EU Covid map. There are not many right now, but the islands of Greece are green.

We are now free to cruise Croatia. Restaurants are closed, but otherwise there are few restrictions other than the standard social distancing routine. It is still Covid times, and “Winter” here so we have the place entirely to ourselves. Conditions are much like a high latitude summer in our terms and very pleasant for cruising.

Kolocep, Croatia.

Arrival in Croatia:

My arrival in Croatia was interesting – see the conversation I have quoted below.

Interestingly, the port police did not mention that you can avoid a test all together if you wish, by just quarantining for 10 days. The price for the Covid PCR test in Dubrovnik is currently 200 euros per person – I was advised later. Ouch! They did give me a phone number, and advised the testing staff would come right to the clearance dock. If it had been necessary, they do make it convenient. Very convenient.

I advised the port police officers we had friends coming 24 hours behind us from the same place. But interestingly, they were given the same instructions to get tested until they explained my recent experience and mentioned our boat name. After which they were granted free entry.

Conversation with police upon arrival in Dubrovnik:

Me: Hello.
Police: Hello, where did you come from?
Me: Lefkada, Greece.
Police: Do you have a PCR Covid test?
Me: No.
Police: You must have one, your expense, and isolate until results back.
Me: But the Croatia government website says no test or isolation coming from green EU zone, and Lefkada, Greece is green?
Police: We don’t do red green here, you must have test.
Me: (showing printout) But it says here on the internet what I said.
Police: That is not official Croatia site.
Me: But it says here at the top, Government of Croatia.
Police: We go by police information, not this.
Me: (showing a different printout) But this is from the official Croatia police website saying the same thing I said.
Police: That is out of date.
Me: But it says here at the top updated yesterday?
Police: That doesn’t apply to maritime border.
Me: Really?
Police: Yes. Call this number to arrange Covid test now. Here is the other number for Covid info. (159).
Me: My phone is on my boat.
I return to the boat and call the Covid info. number (159). Explain my situation. Told to wait.
Police come to my boat…
Me: Hello again.
Police: You are free to enter, no testing, no isolation.
Me: Great!
Police: Yes, we just heard from headquarters it was updated just now, not when you said before, just today.
Me: OK, thank you.

Tips for Cruising Europe:

With time I have come to realize that reading the official government documents pays the best dividends. These can be tricky to find, but have ended many a debate and are often more clearly worded than I expected. Indeed, finding how the rules specifically apply to my own family situation often leaves me with a better understanding than the average official who is left trying to figure out how the changing rules affect every individual situation they encounter. And knowing the published rules intimately and being able to reference or produce them has aided many conversations even with stubborn officials.

In addition to government documents, I love to engage people and ask a lot of questions. There are few things as valuable as asking multiple different people the same question. Most of the Greek information in this article came from talking to people. I spent a day humbly asking questions of seven port police, three immigration police, two customs officers, and an official in the “moving to Greece” office. It became a social studies lesson with my thirteen year old son as part of his homeschool curriculum! I also asked questions of the local sailors we met in Lefkas.

During Covid cruising in Europe I have found this site to be accurate, updated regularly, and containing links to the government publications/official websites.

I hope this information can help others.

Gavin French
SY Water Dogs



Please share your current experience with COVID-19 restrictions and how it has affected your cruising plans. Contact Sue at [email protected] with your field report.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club.

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  1. March 1, 2021 at 3:03 PM
    loemie says:

    Thanks for the update, much appreciated. this will be our life come June/July.

  2. February 27, 2021 at 2:52 PM
    tinaphilippsongmail-com says:

    Great Report.
    I will be arriving to take ownership of our new boat in Turkey this May. I would be interested Gavin in what Greece and Croatia require for competency in operating a boat. We have read that officials are asking for a ICC certificate of competency.

  3. February 26, 2021 at 12:30 AM
    bb38 says:

    A fantastically useful post, making it clear what strategies help manage ill-informed, petty beurocracy, and that produce results fair to all. Thank you for taking the time.