Entry and Exit Formalities

Information on entry and exit formalities including customs, immigration and travelling with pets.


The information provided by the RYA is written as a guide for a UK flagged Pleasure Vessel operated by somebody who is established (resident) in the UK. It may not be applicable to boats registered with other flag states, those who are established elsewhere and vessels that are operated commercially. 

If you are boating abroad and you find something is different or come across something new, please let us know by emailing cruising@rya.org.uk

Ensign and Courtesy Flag


A UK flagged vessel must wear her ensign as required by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which includes when entering or leaving a foreign port and on demand. It is recommended that the ensign is worn at all times in daylight, especially when near to or in sight of land or another vessel. The Coastal State may also have legislation which mandates an ensign being worn at other times. 

Courtesy Flag

Although a custom rather than a legal requirement, most countries expect a courtesy flag (a small version of the coastal state’s maritime ensign) to be flown by foreign flagged vessels at the senior signalling position, acknowledging that they will respect the Coastal State’s jurisdiction laws and sovereignty.

The courtesy flag should be hoisted on entering another country’s territorial waters. On a single masted yacht the correct position is as the upper most flag at the starboard crosstrees. If a motor cruiser does not have a dedicated signal halyard, a suitable prominent position should be used as a substitute.

You may cause offence in some countries if your courtesy flag is tatty, too small or not there at all.

In some instances – such as the UK – the maritime ensign is different from the national flag.

Ports of entry

Some countries specify ports of entry (ports where one may lawfully enter a country), which should be used by a vessel arriving from abroad. It is often a requirement that you proceed by the most direct route to a port of entry on entering territorial waters. A vessel arriving in a country (from outside its customs and or immigration territory) should fly the Q flag until it has been given clearance from the authorities. Even once clearance has been given, some countries may require you to report at each port of call or ask to inspect the vessel’s papers periodically.

From 2021, EU countries may require UK vessels and / or UK citizens to enter and leave the EU and / or the Schengen area using specified ports of entry. Where information is obtained this will be made available to RYA members on the country pages.  

Sailing your pleasure craft to and from the UK

Notice 8 explains the requirements for private individuals who sail their pleasure craft to and from the UK. It includes customs procedures for arriving and departing the UK and details on temporary admission (importation) for pleasure craft registered outside the UK.

The notice can be downloaded from the gov.uk website.

Departing the UK

Before leaving the UK (which includes going to the Channel Islands), you must advise the Border Force of your intentions by posting form C1331 (the address it must be posted to can be found on the form).

Arriving from outside the UK

On entry into territorial waters you are required to fly the Q flag. This should remain in place until you have finished reporting your arrival in the UK.

You must contact the National Yachtline (telephone: 0300 123 2012 open: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Notice 8 details the information you will be expected to provide. 

You will need to comply with any further instructions that you are given.

You must also complete and post form C1331. The address to which the form must be sent can be found on the form and in Notice 8. 

See Notice 8 for details of what goods you must declare on arrival from outside the UK which includes and animals or birds and the vessel itself, if it is liable to UK VAT. Further information can be found in the RYA VAT Guide.

New UK - EU Relationship in 2021

You should expect greater scrutiny, changes to procedures and new requirements to report on arrival and departure, when moving between the UK and the EU, EAA and/or the Schengen area by recreational boat. 

Customs and Immigration

Unless you are certain that you do not need permission to enter a country you should fly the Q flag on first entering territorial waters. The crew should normally remain on board the vessel until the skipper has completed the necessary customs and immigration formalities, when the Q flag may be taken down.

Within Europe, on a UK registered vessel, whether you need to fly the Q flag and contact customs and/or immigration will depend whether both your departure and arrival ports are within the EU and / or within the Schengen Area. 

Every crew member on board requires a recognised travel document such as a valid passport.

Practices vary and could for example include prior notification of your arrival and/or purchasing a cruising permit. The arrival (and departure) process may require you to visit the offices of several different authorities; it may be necessary to use (and pay) an agent. Your stay may be limited in duration either by restrictions on the temporary admission of the vessel or on the length of time the people on board are permitted to stay in the country, so you may be required to clear out of a country as well as in.

A visa may be required; visa free travel is sometimes linked to having a return ticket (to leave the country) so you may need a visa to go to a country by boat that you have previously visited by air without one. It is advisable to check well before you intend to visit the country as visas can take time to procure. Some countries permit short visits visa free, but require a visa or a residency permit for longer stays.  

Customs - EU Member States

The 27 EU Member States form a single customs area.

If you are not established in the EU, provided that your boat is not registered in the EU, and it is intended for re-export and for personal use only, you should be able to enter the EU for up to 18 months under temporary admission. Some EU Member States may require that the boat is placed under customs supervision if the owner leaves it in the EU unattended.

If you are established in the EU (if that is where your habitual residence is), the goods you own (the boat) must be in free circulation, to be allowed to move freely throughout the EU customs area. In customs terms it has the status of Union goods (Union status). 

If your boat had Union status and was lying in the EU when the Brexit Transition Period ended (2300 UTC on 31 December 2020), it should retain that Union status until such time as it leaves the customs territory of the Union (which includes territorial waters). 

A boat which has Union status may move, without being subject to a customs procedure, from one point to another within the customs territory of the Union, and temporarily out of that territory by sea without alteration of its customs status provided that its Union status is proven. 

If you are entering the EU with a boat which had Union status when it left the EU, you may be eligible for returned goods relief (RGR). This is explained further in the RYA VAT Guide.  

Evidence of Union Status

The Union Customs Code Implementing Act (Article 199) details means of proving the customs status of Union goods proof of Union status, which might include the invoice or a T2L. Whilst the UK was a member of the EU, it was possible to obtain a retrospective T2L from HMRC. According to the European Commission documentation such as a T2L or a customs opinion letter, issued by the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period, is no longer valid in the EU. The European Commission advised that "for a boat lying in the EU at the end of the transition period, the person concerned needs to submit a new request to obtain a proof of Union status to one of the Customs authorities in the EU". 

Immigration - Schengen Area

The Schengen Area is a group of European countries which have signed a treaty to abolished border controls between each other. The EU member states except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania have implemented the Schengen rules as have the non-member states - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. 

On entering the Schengen area from a non-Schengen country (or when leaving the Schengen area for a non-Schengen country), you should obtain clearance from the immigration authorities. If in doubt check on arrival (or prior to departure) and be prepared to be subject to a passport (or recognised travel document) check. If your passport is stamped (which may be electronically) on entry into the Schengen area you will need to ensure it is also stamped on departure otherwise in the eyes of the immigration authorities you may never have left. 

See paperwork for more information. 


Guidance on bringing food or other plant or animal products into the UK for personal use can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/personal-food-plant-and-animal-product-imports.

Similar information for the EU, can be found at https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/carry/meat-dairy-animal/index_en.htm

Personal imports into the EU of UK meat, milk and products containing them has been banned since the transition period ended as we are now a non-EU Country. Union law prohibits the introduction into the EU of certain products of animal origin where they form part of travellers' luggage.

The following information is also available on the European Commission website - https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/animalproducts/personal_imports_en. This refers to Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/2122 of 10 October 2019 concerning certain categories of animals and goods exempted from official controls at border control posts, specific controls on passengers’ personal luggage and on small consignments of goods sent to natural persons which are not intended to be placed on the market.

Article 6 of Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/2122 which is entitled: Products of animal origin and composite products on board means of transport operating internationally which are not unloaded and are intended for consumption by the crew and passengers states that:

1. Products of animal origin and composite products are exempted from official controls at border control posts provided that:

(a) they are intended for consumption by the crew and passengers on board means of transport operating internationally; and

(b) they are not unloaded on Union territory.

This would suggest that provided food is not actually landed in the EU it will not form part of traveller’s luggage and it will be fine to have food produced in GB on board. It is also likely that checks will only be undertaken at the border, if at all.

As we find out more we will continue to update this page.

Travelling with Pets

Great Britain

A pet can only arrive in Great Britain (GB) on a private boat if it is arriving from Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland.

Otherwise your pet must enter the UK using an approved transport company and route.

If you are leaving Great Britain with your pet you should ensure that it is correctly prepared in accordance with the rules of the destination country.

For further information see: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/pet-travel-to-europe-from-1-january-2021 

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

Pets arriving in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland need to enter through a designated travellers’ point of entry (TPE).

Northern Ireland TPE

Republic of Ireland TPE

There are changes to how you prepare your pet for travel and the documentation you will need. Further information for Northern Ireland can be found at:



Information published by the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on travelling with pets https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/travelling-pets

Further information for the Republic of Ireland:

Information confirming that the rules on arriving in Ireland with a pet will be changing from 1 January 2021

If you are leaving Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland with your pet you should ensure that it is correctly prepared in accordance with the rules of the destination country.

The Channel Islands

Information on arriving in the Bailiwick of Guernsey with a pet

Information on arriving in Jersey with a pet

The Isle of Man

Information on travelling to the Isle of Man with pets


EU customs and tax allowances:http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/individuals/travelling/entering-eu_en

Temporary Importation for non-EU vessels: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/frequently-asked-questions/some-frequently-asked-questions-about-rules-private-boats_en

MSN 1799 Rabies - carriage of animals on ships: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/msn-1799-rabies-carriage-of-animals-on-ships