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The Dilemma: Yachting and Schengen Visas

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As the Mediterranean season starts to warm up, Schengen visas have become a hot topic among yacht management and non-EU crew.

The industry at large remains surprisingly misinformed on the solutions available to yacht crew, with much debate around the paperwork required and apparent hassle of having non-EU crew on board. This has had a knee-jerk effect on the crew hiring process, with some jobs advertising only for certain passport-holders or even expressly stating: “No South Africans/Filipinos because of passport issues”.

Truth be told, the Schengen visa dilemma should never have come this far. All nationalities can and should be given a fair chance regardless of their passport. At the very least, a crew member’s passport should not be the deciding factor in whether or not they get the job; so long as the crew member is on the correct visas and has the necessary qualifications.

With the right advice and some careful planning, Schengen visas can be relatively simple to understand and manage.

The Schengen Agreement is named after the village Schengen on the tri-border of Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg where the agreement was first signed in 1985. The agreement is implemented by 22 European Union (EU) member states and four non-members including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Stengehn village

The visa policy of the Schengen Area discerns between Annex I nationals (the ‘black list’) and Annex II nationals (the ‘white list’).

Nationals on the Annex I list need a visa if they wish to enter the Schengen Area and typically include most countries in Africa, Asia and western parts of South America. Some Annex I countries include South Africa, Philippines, Russia and China.

Nationals on the Annex II list do not require visas to enter the Schengen Area but often require permission for a stay longer than 90-days or for employment activity on land. Some Annex II countries include Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand.

Visa reciprocity between the Schengen Area and Annex II countries like New Zealand, for example, mean that certain ‘softer’ regulations are in place for tourism and business visits between countries.

When it comes to knowing exactly what visas to apply for, where to renew visas and how to ‘stamp out’ of the Schengen Area, it is important to know that every situation should be handled on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with an advisor who knows what they are doing.

A very simplified explanation of the Schengen visa requirements for non-EU yacht crew is given below.

As it stands, three Schengen visas apply to non-EU seafarers:

1)  Transit (Type B) Schengen visa

2)  Short-stay (Type C) Schengen visa

3)  Long-stay (Type D) Schengen visa

Depending on the nationality of the crew member, the agreements in place between the crew member’s country and their destination country in the Schengen Area, the yacht flag state and the cruising grounds of the boat, any one of these visas may be issued.

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Commonly referred to as an ‘entry visa’ or ‘exit visa’, this visa is needed for crew who join or leave a boat in the Schengen Area without a valid short-stay (Type C) or long-stay (Type D) Schengen visa. The transit (Type B) visa is valid for a transit of no more than five days through the Schengen Area.

It is most applicable to crew members who need to join a boat and help take it somewhere else (i.e. an Atlantic Crossing due to depart from France) or for crew members who have an expired Schengen visa and need to fly home from a Schengen airport.


Short-stay (Type C) visas are issued on a single-entry, double-entry or multiple-entry basis. These visas are issued to a variety of non-resident visitors to the Schengen Area including tourists, seafarers and business people.

The documents needed to apply for short-visas depend on the nature of the visit. For yacht crew, the most relevant visa is the Seaman Short-Stay (Type C) visa. A list of required documents is provided by each consulate but generally includes proof of employment letter, travel insurance, work contract, vessel registration papers, port letter, boat itinerary etc. that prove that the crew member will work on board a vessel that is not permanently based in the Schengen Area.

The Seaman Short-Stay (Type C) visa is valid for 1 to 5 years depending on the crew contract and other factors like the number of previous Schengen visas in the applicant’s passport.

As a general rule of thumb, a Type C visa cannot be changed, renewed or extended from within the Schengen Area. This needs to be done at a consulate outside of the Schengen Area (i.e. Fort Lauderdale in the US or the country of residence of the crew member). The visa should be applied for in person by the crew member concerned.

There are external service providers that process these visas while the crew member remains in the Schengen Area.

However this solution needs some time before it becomes an accepted method of visa renewal or extension.

The ‘short’ part of short stay refers to the general rule: 90-days in and 90-days out in any 180-day period while the visa is valid. Essentially, this means that the visa holder is expected to leave the Schengen Area before 90-days or when the visa expires, whichever date comes first.

Practically speaking, this is challenging for yacht crew who might spend more than 90-days in the Schengen Area while working on board.

To get around this, yacht crew can be ‘stamped out’ by the yacht’s shipping agent, captain or purser at immigration. This is an official immigration stamp in the crew member’s passport. The crew member is then stamped onto the yacht’s crew list and their Seaman’s Book comes into effect to prove their time spent at sea.

At this point, the crew member becomes the full responsibility of the vessel and their 90-days in the Schengen Area is put on hold for the time they are working on board.

At the end of the season or contract, the crew member is stamped back into the Schengen Area and the crew member picks up where they left off on their 90-days. This has worked well for the commercial cruise-liner industry but has been received with mixed reviews in the yachting industry, where crew are often questioned on the ‘stamping out’ procedure by visa-issuing authorities and consulates in their home countries.

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Long-stay (Type D) visas do not apply the rule of 90-days in and 90-days out. Instead, they are granted for a set period of time and can be renewed from within the Schengen Area. Depending on the country of issue, there are a number of different visas that fall within the Schengen long-stay (Type D) category.

These visas are dependent on the duration and reason for the applicant’s stay in the Schengen Area including study, seasonal work (seafarers) and permanent residence.

The list of documents required to apply for this visa is similar to the short-stay (Type C) seaman visa and differs slightly from consulate-to-consulate but usually includes: the seafarer’s work contract, vessel registration papers, proof of funds etc.

In France, the long-stay (Type D) seaman visa is issued to crew who are employed on a yacht that is not registered in France but that will be more than 90-days in a row in the Schengen Area. Typically this includes smaller yachts and yachts that are based in France full time over the winter months.

Holders of this long-stay visa marked “CESEDA R.311-3” will need to declare their arrival in France and make a visit to the French Immigration and Integration Office (OFII) within two months of their arrival. Here, the crew member is taken for a medical and brief interview with the local French authorities.

If all is in order, the crew member is granted a Carte de Sejour Visiteur visa, which is one of the very many long-stay (Type D) visas available for foreigners in France. Essentially, this is a seasonal worker’s visa that can be renewed annually at the Prefecture in France, provided all paperwork is in order and there is no change in the applicant’s situation. The visa renewal process should begin two-three months before the visa is due to expire.

The good news about this visa is that it places the crew member within the Schengen ‘national’ system and allows them certain rights and responsibilities that are not available to short-stay (Type C) visa holders. It is the better visa to get if non-EU crew plan on having a life in Europe.

Here are my 10 rules you should absolutely follow when approaching your Schengen visa:

The 10 Schengen Commandments for Crew

1.  To get on the right visas will take time and cost money. Get used to it

2.  Always get a second opinion on your plan of action

3.  Get a Seaman’s Book

4.  To be safe, make sure you are ‘stamped out’ of Schengen territory by a shipping agent or the yacht’s captain/purser at immigration if you  are on an a short-stay (Type C) visa

5.  Never, ever overstay 90-days on land or your visa expiry date without work on a yacht. This is applicable to seafarers on short-stay (Type C) visas

6.  Do not rely on your boat or your job to solve your visa issues. Be on the right visas with or without the boat’s assistance Ask yourself: If I left the boat today, would my current visas be sufficient and do I know what to do if they aren’t?

7.  Have a long-term view of your visa situation. Cheap, short-cuts might solve the immediate problem but make it harder later on when you reapply for different visas or consider settling abroad. If you are planning a life in the Schengen Area,  know what visas will help you with renting/buying property, vehicle registration, insurance, working ashore and so on

8.  Never, ever submit fraudulent paperwork or boat documentation to visa-issuing authorities or immigration officials. And always make sure your management company, captain or purser is aware that you plan to use the boat’s documentation for your visa application

9.  Make sure you will be in the clear when you reapply or renew your visas. Denied visas are costly to correct

10. Only take advice or listen to recommendations from people who have personally been down the same road

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What a Schengen Visa looks like in your passport. Adapted from:

From the time of application to the time of renewal, Schengen visas are a continual work in progress. It can be a challenge at first but over time and with some experience, the process becomes easier to understand and less costly for both crew and yacht management.

It is unfortunate that widespread misinformation and industry concern have flagged non-EU passport holders as a nuisance when really, it can be a simple and easy to understand system that does not take much to get around.

In the end, crew who are committed to the industry need to know what visa solutions are available to them, make an effort to stay on the right side of immigration and get on with the job at hand.

This article is an adapted and updated version of the original article published by The Swedish African: The Somewhat Definitive Guide to your Green Mamba: Schengen Visas and Yachting in France.

For more information or to contact the author, join YACHT CREW VISAS on Facebook

Please note that this article in no way represents the views or opinions of any embassy, consulate, visa-issuing authority, governmental spokesperson or state-owned entity in any country whatsoever. By reading this article and understanding its contents, you agree to undertake your own research and approach advisors and agencies who are skilled in this area of immigration. The author nor her representatives are liable for any indirect, incidental, economic, special, punitive, nor consequential damages that might occur as a result of this article or its contents.

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