Noonsite – Cruising Info in Europe

The information in this post came directly from Noonsite and is a guide to general cruising information in Europe, rules and regs as well as how each country can interpret these can differ.  This information is ‘just information’ it might not be 100% accurate and rules change regularly.



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 you can 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)  Certification required if transiting the inland waters of Europe.

5)  Regulations affecting boats permanently imported into the EU.

6)  Requirements if you wish to bring your pet with you to the EU.

7)  Sections with useful reports and links to other sites.

European Union Member Countries

Currently, there are 27 member countries in the European Union.

Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark (excluding Greenland); Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Gibraltar; Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden.









The UK left the EU on 31 January, 2020. The country is now in a transition period until 31 December 2020, which means for travelers visiting the UK everything will continue as it was until the end of the year.



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 the Schengen Area (colored 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, Serbia and Gibraltar.

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 any 180 day period.

In this instance, the word “any” means: for any 180 day period, one must not spend more than 90 days in the Schengen Area. This is typically calculated from “today” back 180 days: if you have been in the Schengen Area for 90 of those days, you will be in violation of the agreement.

See a full explanation at the European Home Affairs website. Also, see this Noonsite Report.

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 any 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.

Important Note: There is no Schengen-wide database of entries and exits, border control ensure that you haven’t overstayed by looking at the stamps in your passport. This system is not ideal – so it is particularly important that your movements in and out of the Schengen Area Countries are recorded (i.e. with a passport stamp). Always make sure to get stamped when entering and exiting Schengen. You may well have to push for this as many border officers can’t be bothered, but it’s in your best interest so you have proof you have not overstayed.

Applying for a Schengen Visa

The Schengen Visa has a reputation as being hard to obtain. However, in February 2020 the EU changed some of the rules to the Schengen Visa Code that regulates the issuing of visas and benefits, to try and ease the application process for travelers. Find out the full details at the Schengen Visa website.

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. Electronic application forms are now available in most countries.

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!

See this EU link for the latest information on this subject.

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, Gibraltar 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

There are many countries who are not in the European Union (EU) whose citizens can enter the EU Schengen Zone without needing a visa. Specifically, there are currently 62 countries who are not in the EU but are visa-free.

Citizens of these countries are allowed to go into countries in the Schengen Zone for business or travel purposes for up to 90 days. During these 90 days, these visitors are not allowed to work or study but can engage in business and tourism activities.

Documentation required on entry includes:

  • A Valid Passport. It must not be older than 10 years and it should be valid for at least three more months beyond their intended date of departure from the Schengen Area.
  • Evidence on their purpose of entry. Documents that show why they are traveling to the Schengen Area.
  • Proof of sufficient financial means. Documents which prove the traveler has the financial means to support themselves during their whole stay in Europe.

See ETIAS information below for further requirements as of January 2021.

Nationals NOT Requiring a Schengen Visa for Any Length of Stay:

Citizens, residents and their immediate family members and legal partners 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).
  • Canada (covering France) – 3 months.
  • Other ‘friendly’ countries such as the USA, 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 (i.e. confirmation in an e-mail from an Embassy).

What if I am stuck in the EU and overstay my Schengen Visa?

Article 33 of the EU Visa Code: In case a visa holder who is already present on the territory of the Member States is unable to leave before the expiry of his visa for reasons of force majeure, humanitarian reasons or serious personal reasons, he should address the request for extension of the visa to the competent authorities of the Member State where he is present even if that is not the Member State whose consulate issued the visa.

Covid-19: Therefore if you have entered the EU on a Schengen visa, and now your flight back home is cancelled due to coronavirus, there is no need to panic. You will very likely not face penalties for overstaying a Schengen visa during this time. If you are unable to leave before the expiration of your visa, you can simply apply for an extension at the competent authorities of the Member State where you are located. See Schengen Visa Info. for more information.

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, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, West Samoa, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Note: This list is subject to change, see the latest list at the European Parliament website.

New EU rules on short-stay visas apply worldwide from 2 February 2020, making it easier for legitimate travelers to apply for a visa to come to Europe. These new rules only apply to travelers from all countries which need visas to travel to the EU (above). See the European Commission website for more details.

European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS)

This new system will be launched in January 2021. It’s a completely new electronic system which enables keeping track of visitors from countries who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Zone. It involves filling in an online application form, which will take approx. 20 minutes to complete, in advance of your travel to the Schengen Zone (2 weeks before), and paying a small fee (similar to the US ESTA).

After you fill out your application online with the personal information on your passport, and answer a series of security and health-related questions, it should be approved and sent to your email address within a few hours after it is checked across security databases like Interpol and Europol. While children under the age of 18 will be required to have an ETIAS, they will not be charged the application fee.

Your ETIAS will be valid for three years—or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.

Nationals of visa liberalization countries will continue to travel the EU without a visa but will simply be required to obtain a travel authorization via ETIAS prior to their travel

See more information at

Last updated:  February 2020



EU VAT/Import Duty:

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 own, non-EU yachts and sailed by non-EU owners or skippers. If an EU owner or skipper sails a non-EU registered the 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).

However, the total time a yacht can remain in the EU is a maximum of 24 months. The amount of paperwork required to place a boat in Customs bond and the restrictions they place on it varies from country to country.

Technically you cannot make use of the boat while it is in bond (i.e. sleep on board) and that you can only visit it to maintain it not to make improvements. That said, whether these rules are actually applied, again varies from country to country.

Yachts registered in Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein 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.

Can I sail in the EU for the Whole 18 months?

The short answer is ‘no’.

Although the yacht itself can remain in the EU for 18 months, the skipper is bound by the Schengen visa regulations (whether or not they actually need to apply for a visa) and must leave the Schengen Area after 90 days. See the Schengen Area section for a full explanation of the rules. However, a different non-EU skipper (with the owner’s permission) could take over.

Can the 18 months be extended if the yacht is not used? You may want to go home for Christmas!

Yes, as noted above, 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.

I am stuck in the EU due to Covid-19 restrictions and VAT-free period is running out – what can I do? 

There is provision in EU tax law for the 18 month VAT Temporary Admission period to be extended for exceptional reasons, certainly up to 24 months. Extensions for up to the 24 month period are commonly granted where the yacht is laid up. It is recommended that approval is obtained  from local customs authorities before going over the 18 month period.

In some cases it may be possible to go beyond the 24 month limit where it can be shown that there are exceptional reasons, for example to carry out running repairs necessary before the vessel can be used to leave the EU, or because border restrictions are preventing the vessel from leaving.

The best advice for people in this situation is to make contact with the VAT office in the country where the yacht is located.

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 an 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. If you are shipping many items from outside the EU, it is advisable to use the services of an import agent who can deal with all the paperwork and duty calculations on your behalf.

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 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.

Whilst it is not required to proceed to a customs office in order to make a declaration of entry, it is perhaps 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.

Cautionary Notes:

Not all Customs Authorities are familiar with the above. There have been cases of boats being impounded in Portugal in 2013 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. So be wary.


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. Gibraltar should therefore not 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.

Ceuta and Melilla

Although part of Spain, Melilla and Ceuta are not in the Customs Territory of the EU (TAU) or the Territory of VAT application (TAIVA). This makes them a useful place to re-set the TI clock.

When is VAT Payable?

A 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. An exemption granted to boats built before 1 January 1995 and are deemed to have VAT paid status if they were in private ownership and within the EU at midnight on 31 December 1992. A mooring receipt or something similar would provide such evidence.

It is not advisable to buy a boat without this evidence unless you are prepared to pay the VAT due.

Contact a VAT Yacht Specialist for advice based on your own situation.

Updated November 2018.

EU VAT Rates

For current EU VAT rates see Noonsite/VAT Rates page.

For a list of VAT, Authorities see Noonsite/European Union/VAT Authorities page.



International Certificate of Competence

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 sailboats, 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, Portugal, Spain 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 worldwide where such a course can be taken. See for a list of the RYA centres and 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 an ATIS-enabled VHF radio.

See the French Waterways website for more details.

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), an 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:  February 2020



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 on getting a boat CE marked if importing from America is



Most pets can be moved around Europe if they comply with the regulations of the Pets Passport Scheme and have an EU Pet Passport.

Note: Rabies vaccinations administered by a veterinary practitioner not authorized by an EU country will render the EU Pet Passport invalid for travel.

European Regulation on the movement of pet animals



The information in this post came directly from Noonsite and is a guide to general cruising information in Europe, rules and regs as well as how each country can interpret these can differ.  This information is ‘just information’ it might not be 100% accurate and rules change regularly.