Legal Aspects of Cruising: Visa and Permits

So you want to go on a cruise? Surely you have thought about health and safety, the right time for your route and what equipment you will need on board. But what about the legal formalities that are a requirement for international cruising? This article aims to help you identify legal aspects of sailing in international waters – and entering foreign countries.

1.) Carry your documents with you: The papers you will most likely need on pretty any cruise include passport of you and all of your crew or passengers; radio license; the yacht’s registration papers; and a certificate that proves your competence in navigation.

Many countries also require a legal registration of your yacht with an association or administrative body in your country of origin. In the US, you can register your yacht either in your state or with the Coast Guard.

In the Mediterranean, thousands of yachts get stolen every year and sold in Northern Africa or Eastern European countries. Therefore, checks of clearance papers from your last port are becoming more and more common, for example in Southern France and Italy.

2.) Cruising permits, if a simple visa is not enough: Some countries issue special cruising permits, sometimes only for specific areas. This happens normally in regions of natural beauty or national parks, areas with protected ethnic groups or the isolation of military areas.

In any case, it is in the best interest of every cruising sailor to avoid violations of cruise permit regulations. Cruise permits sometimes need to be obtained months in advance. Check with specific literature or a diplomatic body, whether or not the countries you want to sail to require specific permits at least six months in advance.

3.) Health comes with forms: In many countries you will also need vaccination or health forms, for example with islands that viciously defend a rabies-free status. If you require specific medication, bring prescriptions to prove that you are allowed to carry them with you. This will also allow you to protect yourself against suspicions of drug abuse.

4.) Special things on board require special consideration: If you have a pet on board, bring vaccination documents and check in advance if special requirements apply at your destination. Firearms cause similar issues; always carry a license from the country of you origin and bring only firearms from this country to avoid complications. If you bring any sport gear that requires certificates to operate it (for example scuba diving gear or jet skis) always carry them handy on board.

5.) Visa conditions might be special for cruisers: Not all countries treat sailors the same way as tourists entering the country by other means of transport, therefore, “ordinary” travel literature and even official recommendations might be insufficient to plan your cruise. Some countries grant privileges to sailors, others fear the lack of a return ticket and pest you with special restrictions and rules.

Do your homework and figure out what type of visa regulations apply to you. If in doubt, get in touch with your embassy or consulate in the country you will cruise or ask information at the embassy or consulate of the respective country in your own. Make sure that your passport does not expire during your stay. In fact, most countries require foreign visitors to hold a passport that does not expire within six months after the stay.

Visa formalities can take several months in some countries. Start reading and applying at least half a year before you set sails. To make things worse, the visa requirements can change dynamically during your stay, if so, get in touch with you country’s embassy or consulate.

6.) Make your life as easy as possible: Always keep you documents together and handy. If you cruise with passengers, get at least copies of all their passports. To play safe, get some nice seals and stamps from a solicitor to prove the authenticity of photocopies.

Maintain a list with names, dates of birth, nationality and passport number of all passengers and crew. Keep a detailed log with arrival and clearance papers. Always remember: Tidy forms are the best opposition to bureaucrats!

Further Reading

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Department of State on Visa issues

Department of State's Travel advice - crucial information for your safety

Wikipedia on Visa