Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
Schengen, that wonderful scheme that allows open borders from the bottom of Greece all the way to the top of Norway. The only European countries NOT in the Schengen area are England, Scotland, Ireland (one of the reasons I kept the boat there), Turkey, Russia and perhaps Croatia.
Everyone else, Schengen (drum roll please).
Now the rules are relatively simple, 90 days allowed for every 180 days. So if you stay 90 days, you must leave and not return until 90 more days have passed. Arriving my air, from a non-Schengen country (all the rest of the world plus the U.K and Ireland) as you pass through immigration, they stamp your passport.
When you leave, they look for the entry stamp and stamp you out. If you have overstayed your 90 days, then the penalty will depend up on the person checking you out and probably most importantly, what side of the bed they got out of that morning.
The penalty for over-staying, a big red stamp in your passport banning you from any Schengen area country for three years. Now with a boat in Europe that would throw a monkey wrench into the works. So that’s a fate I would like to avoid.
Now the rules for boats differ slightly. From what I have been able to determine and am still not 100% sure since I get told different things by different people all the time, boats and those who enter the country on them are treated as they have always been treated. Presumably this means that they treat the boat as always leaving and entering, so theoretically, I should check in at every port of entry in each country.
So while I am diligent, I also don’t like wasting my time. Last year, I traveled by boat through 15 countries. Only in one, the Netherlands, did anyone what to see my passport let alone stamp it. In fact, there was clearly an aversion to stamp anything.
That’s what happened a few weeks ago in France. The Customs people came by the boat, to check its papers and to make sure I had not overstayed the 18-month limit on boats and payment of the Value Added Tax (VAT) which is about 21%. Not chump change, as we said in the day.
They French Customs, checked my USCG Document, and the most important document of all, the original port of entry into the European Union (EU) that took place in August 2014 in the Azores. Now the Dutch in their vigilance, had given me another form. This one based on my August 2014 entry into the EU had an area for a stamp when I left the EU. They also told me that they would enter the information into the big brother computer in Brussels.
Last September (2015) I duly got that form stamped while in Norway to prove that Dauntless had left the EU. Unlike the rules for people and immigration, the customs rules for things and VAT are totally different and separate. But I knew it was a big deal, so I ran around Norway, well maybe not the whole country, but the little city of Kristianstad, where I found a bemused customs agent to stamp my form for me. Did he want a copy? No. Did he want to stamp my passport? No.
Since I have been living this for the last three years, just to clarify, the Schengen Area and the EU are totally DIFFERENT administrative areas. The former is for people and latter for things. Dauntless only had to be out of the EU for one day to reset the 18-month clock.
Now fast forward to France a few weeks ago. The French were very nice and easy going. I had the forms, they gave me another one, presumably to document that Dauntless was back in the EU and they went on their merry way.
But no, sorry, they could not stamp my passport. That was the job of the immigration people, who seem to only hang out at the airport.
OK I figured I get it stamped sooner or later,
So being the diligent little cruiser that I am, I had attempted to get our passports stamped while in Porto. But upon arriving at the office in the middle of town, it looked like the latest refuge boat had just docked. There were hundreds of people on line. I decided to take my chances on the next town.
Figueira da Foz was that place.
When I walked into the Immigration office, no lines, no waiting, a nice reception. The Portuguese Immigration Agent was duly summoned and I explained the problem in my “English for Foreigners” talk.
He had a colleague who was more fluent and that helped the situation. But it was obvious that he did not understand why I was all the way down here and had not gotten my passport stamped in France or even Spain or even Porto.
I put on my best Please Help Me look and hoped for the best.
He then took my documents and went back to his office to have a conversation first with his colleague and then on the telephone with a couple of people. Now I do wish I understood a modicum of Portuguese, though while my reading is almost usable, the sounds they make are hard for my language challenged brain to decipher.
In less than 10 minutes he emerged telling me he had stamped our passports, but he wanted to come to the boat to check my other two guests (they havening just arrived only days ago had their entry stamp so I had decided I did not need to also bring their passports.
He verified their passport information and that was that. I thanked him and he left.
A number of observations and reflections:
Had I not been flying out of Spain or Portugal at the end of September, I would not have bothered.
Last year’s cruise and now this one demonstrate that while a uniform rule is made in Brussels for the EU and Luxemburg for Schengen, counties in general, and marinas specifically, don’t want to hassle boaters.
Lastly, one of the biggest issues is that every agent I’ve spoken to in the last two years is convinced that every office, every agent, every country does it just as they do. It’s simple, the rule covers everyone and therefore everyone is doing the same thing.
Well, the simple fact is that the situation is exactly the opposite. Every country seems to have different interpretations of the same rule. And within countries there is not even a sandcasting of procedures. Thus, when I say, the French did not want to stamp my passport, I get a look like I have two heads.
So today’s mission was successful because unlike in the past, I knew not to tell them what they could not comprehend.
I will also add that in the plus two years Dauntless has been in Europe, having stopped in 100 cities and towns and over 15 countries, my contacts with Customs, Immigration or even just Maritime Police, were rare, only about a half dozen times and each and every time, the officers were kind, friendly and efficient. They have always asked to come aboard and always ask if they need to take off their boots (I always say it’s unnecessary).
In terms of rules and regulations, cruising in Europe could not be easier with less histrionics than I have observed in the States.
By the way, did you notice the similarity between Schengen and Shenanigan? As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in coincidences!
Have a good day!!!