Complying With Bureaucracies: The Trials and Tribulations of Exporting and Re-Importing a Boat in Just one Weekend
While we spent a week hopping around the Kornati Islands on a sailboat, my agent (boat purchase broker) was on mainland diligently carrying out all the bureaucratic errands to finalize the acquisition of my boat… or so I thought.
You may know that by this point, I had already paid for the boat in full, but the registration and final diligences weren’t quite finished. In fact, they were taking quite a bit of time.
This was problematic because we had a deadline; I had flights booked to Germany the Monday after Kornati. If you’ve been following along, you know we arrived in Sibenik on Friday morning, leaving us with just one weekend to get everything done…
Flagging the boat, last-minute paperwork (actual registration and insurance), physically exporting the boat out of Croatia and then reimporting it; and finally bringing it to the marina of Tribunj for it to be hulled out and worked on while I’m away.😅👌
At the beginning of the weekend, it seemed like an odyssey. There were many things that could go wrong and mess the whole timeline up, especially in 2020. However, and much to my surprise, it all worked out beautifully… Well, no odyssey goes without some trials and tribulations; so they were 3 very hectic and long days.
Nonetheless, we did manage to get everything done in just 3 days and I learned a lot about the process along the way. In this post, I tell you all about this manic weekend and everything I had to do to finally complete the purchase of my Staatenlos catamaran.
In my last post, we left off just after having arrived at Marina Mandalina with the Twin Star. Even though we had the boat for one more night, we had decided to dock early in Sibenik because we still had last-minute catamaran related paperwork to finish, and also, my two friends (who had been sailing with us for the week) had a flight to catch that afternoon.
After they left, Christian, my brother, Josh, and I, we were all still around and there were lots of errands still left for us to do. You see, in Croatia, and a lot of other countries in the world, a boat is not allowed to sail if it doesn’t have third-party liability insurance – and you can’t ensure the boat without proper registration papers.
You would think that the Friday before exportation something so important as the registration would have already been done. Well, it turns out that the office where we registered our boat made a mistake the first time around, so getting the right paperwork took a little longer than expected.
Thankfully, we got everything we needed that Friday afternoon (3:00 pm), basically at the last minute we could have gotten it in order to still have enough time to get the insurance (brokerage closed at 5:00 pm). At 3 pm, we had only been able to get a digital proof of registration, luckily that was enough for us to be able to purchase the policy.
Our yacht broker, the guy who had been supporting the sale of the boat, gave me the contact of the insurance broker as soon as I had the registration. I messaged him [insurance broker] on WhatsApp right away and from there it was smooth sailing.
In those two hours, I got him the registration, got his offer, signed it, wired the cash (not much) and sent back the signed offer; he then issued the policy and (at 4:45 pm) we were on our way, letting him start his weekend 15 minutes early! Could we have been better prepared and done everything much earlier?
Yes. But in all fairness, we didn’t really know what we were doing (my first boat purchase), and apparently our broker was also a little lost. 😅 He only told us about the insurance and all the details of what we had to do at the very last minute. Either way, I’m happy the way everything worked out; it probably wouldn’t have gone as well if we had planned it!
So, Friday we got the registration and insurance and all we had left to do was prep the boat on Saturday for the inaugural export/import sail on Sunday. After finishing all the bureaucratic errands, we had a nice walk around town and found a delightful little nook for dinner. I enjoyed really delicious beef tartar and after, we all went back to the boat for our last night aboard the Twin Star.
Early the next morning we had a taxi pick us up at the marina and drive us to Split. Not to the old town; but to the marina in Split, which is located in the old industrial harbor and free-zone of the city.
The site is called MCI Marina, and I didn’t find it to be a very nice place. It’s very old with lots of boats crowded on land and very few in the water. Just a very cluttered and chaotic place. But that’s where our bat was, and therefore, this was our home for the weekend.
Despite the lacking scenery, this was still a very special moment, it was basically the first time we moved into our very own boat. My first night in my new home.😍
Since we got to the marina in the morning, we had the whole day to make the vessel feel a bit more like home and settle in. We also used the day to go to town and get provisions for the export/import trip. In split, we walked around for a little bit, and eventually ended up at a restaurant we had visited before and had lunch there.
While shopping we came across a beautiful pig-leg, which of course we bought and have actually kept it hanging in my closet on board ever since. We made a nice little contraption to hang it with a carabiner. This way, we can always enjoy some delectably fresh shaved ham. 😎👊
Fun Fact: my wardrobe on the boat is pretty much a pantry. There are no clothes, instead, you’ll find a big leg of ham hanging and lots of other types of food stored in there. I don’t really need a closet; I haven’t used one in the last 5 years since I’m used to keeping my clothes in my carry-on.
That afternoon we enjoyed Split for a little bit; had some ice cream, bought the ham, and walked around. We also picked up some drinks and then went back to our boat to spend the rest of the afternoon prepping the Staatenlos catamaran for its maiden voyage the next morning.
In the evening, we wanted to go to town after sunset but got stuck on our boat watching a crane lifting a sailboat out of the water. This was all happening really close to our boat. They were maneuvering this thing just a few feet away from us and above us.
I mean, in the end, it was pretty cool to witness, yet I was still a little concerned they would drop this sailboat on our new home! They were bringing it from land to sea and they actually did a really good job. So after we made sure that our boat was safe from hazards, we finally made our way to town for dinner… and some ice cream.
It wasn’t a late night, we made sure to go home early in order to be best prepared for the big day the next day. We weren’t too concerned about the tasks of the day, most of the legalities had been taken over and ran by the agent, and he would be with us. We didn’t have much to do other than be present, but it was still promising to be a really long day.
The whole ordeal took from 7 am to 9 pm. This was not only sailing, although we sailed a lot! We sailed I think 60-70 nautical miles, which is around 130km. We left the MCI Marina just after sunrise and arrived at our marina in Tribunj shortly after sunset.
On Sunday morning, to start the journey, we had to go around the Split peninsula by boat, which only took about 1 hour. First, we went to the gas station to fill our diesel, this was our first time getting diesel with our own boat and the wind was pushing us quite strongly into the bay. It was a bit difficult, but in the end, we managed to fill up the boat without too much trouble.
Then, we had to go to the complete other side of the harbor, to customs and immigration. This was the first step in formally exporting a boat. For this, we needed to check out of Croatia officially, so our passports would actually get checked and stamped and then we would leave Croatia on the shortest route towards international waters, leaving EU territory.
Basically leaving the 12-mile zone to export, celebrating in international waters for a bit, and then turning right back around to reimport the boat. Seems a bit silly and by now you may be asking yourself why is this necessary? The answer is: because we didn’t pay any VAT on the boat.
So to give you some overview of the law of the sea… you can either pay the VAT of the boat in the country where you bought it in the EU or, you can do what’s called a temporary importation.
Paying the VAT in Croatia wasn’t too appealing since it’s a 25% tax, which is quite a lot. I may consider importing the boat to the EU in the future, maybe somewhere like Malta where VAT is only 18% (much better deal if you ask me) but for the moment, we didn’t want to pay any VAT on the boat.
By the way, usually, in the EU you only have to pay VAT once per boat, but because my boat is Croatian and Croatia wasn’t in the EU until only a couple of years ago, VAT for it was never paid in the EU. Most of the boats in Croatia don’t have EU VAT paid.
So, you can choose to pay VAT and import it into the EU, or you can do a temporary import and still be able to stay with the boat in the EU for up to 18 months. and even after the 18 months, you just have to leave the EU for like a day, go to Montenegro for example, return right after and you get another 18-month allowance.
So, because we don’t want to stay in the EU for long anyway (just until the end of the summer, when we plan to sail to the Caribbean), we didn’t see the point of paying VAT in Europe just yet. And you may think, is only 25% percent and my boat didn’t really cost that much… it was still a considerable sum.
So instead, we opted to postpone the heavier fees and spend that money right now on other things for the vessel – like the toys for our boat and any renovations needed to make it feel like home.
Temporary Importation 101
The law states that foreign nationals, as well as Croatian citizens with a usual residence in third countries, may, with the full exemption from import duties, temporarily import (with the obligation to export again) various items of personal needs, as well as the needs of family members during their stay in the EU.
Personal belongings of travelers, which include all items, new or used, which the traveler may reasonably need for personal use during the journey. This includes leisure boats – That’s pretty much the gist of it. On paper, the complete rules seem to be quite strict for temporarily importing a boat.
First, the owner has to be aboard the boat the whole time and there should be no guests onboard aside from immediate family. Moreover, while your boat is under temporary import in a country, you shouldn’t actually do any upgrades to the boat – This is something we haven’t really complied but it hasn’t been an issue at all.
In fact, while the boat was at the marina, we were doing a bunch of work on it; installing a second fridge for example, and it didn’t really seem to matter. We even had the harbormaster visit to collect some payments while we had workers on board drilling holes and no one said anything. So, I think things are a lot more lenient than what’s officially on paper.🤯
Anyway, back to export day… After filling up, we went all the way to the other end of the harbor to the customs queue, but as you know, this day was quite windy so Josh (my skipper and friend) made the executive decision to go to the other side of the costumes queue.
This was not the place we were expected to go to and it turned out to be a pretty big deal. Turns out we ended up in ferry queue. 🙅♂️ So we got into pretty immediate trouble with all the workers in the area. They looked at our paperwork and ushered us angrily to the other side of the queue. As they sent us on our way however, they forgot to give us back our papers. 🤦♂️
We also forgot to ask for them because the one guy took us to where we needed to be and by the time we turned around he was gone with all of our things. At the customs pier, everything was pretty messy and a bit stressful, even despite the fact that we had our agent there; I still had to go with him to the customs office anyways, I needed to be present to declare the boat.
Going to the customs office meant going on a 5-minute drive to the old town to get our crew list notarized at the harbormaster’s office. I should mention you don’t have to do this every time you travel by boat, but because we were officially declaring out of the country, customs officials needed and notarized crew list of everyone on board for immigration purposes.
After getting the list and having it stamped, we went back to the customs office and got our final green light to return to the boat and exit the country. It was pretty intense, I was running around with all the passports, but yeah, again, things worked out and we were on our way to leave Croatia.
At this point, I had to pay the agent and in retrospect, I think it was quite expensive almost 300 euros. Just to “prepare” all the paperwork for the export. Either way, now I know how the process works and I know what needs to be done next time we have to do this (end of August) and I’m sure I’ll be able to manage it myself!
So, that was the process of exporting it on paper… Now all that was left for us to do, was to export the boat physically. For this, we planned the most efficient and fastest route to get to international waters.
We were lucky to be leaving from Split because there are no islands on the path from MCI to Tribunj (where we were docking later) – all of the islands are actually in the northern part of Dalmatia, basically in central Croatia – but on this peninsula, between Sibenik and Split, there are no offshore islands on the way and out of the 12-mile zone.
Side Note: If you’ve made it this far and don’t know what the 12-mile zone is: basically, 12 nautical miles (from baselines) is the limit of the Territorial Sea (the area of the sea adjacent to the coast of a state) which is considered to be part of the territory of that state and subject to its sovereignty.
For us, empty waters ahead meant we just had to sail 12 nautical miles from the coast without having to care about navigating around landmasses. If we would have left from further north, simply getting out of the 12-mile zone would have taken much longer.
So we were lucky that it worked out this way, and it wasn’t very difficult at all to bring the boat out of the 12-mile zone and then back into the coast.
As mentioned before, we had left the Split marina at around 7 am, by 8 we were at the customs pier, by 9 we were finished with customs, and finally, we were out of the 12-mile zone at around noon. We celebrated the occasion with some delectable Venezuelan Rum (Diplomatico Reserva) and some delicious ham.
We sailed around on international waters for a bit to mark the occasion and then started to head north and back to shore. It was nearly 5 o’clock by the time we entered the port in Sibenik. This was the main town where we had to check-in and re-import our boat. Meaning, once again we had to go to the customs queue.
This time, we went to the exact location where our agent was meeting us in Sibenik. Again, we had to go to the harbormaster’s office before going back to the boat to get to the queue. The whole import took us about two hours, from 5-7 pm. Luckily, at that time, no one was going through customs, no ferries from Italy, no other boats whatsoever. I guess it was still quite early in the season, after all, this was back on the first Sunday of July.
Getting to the customs pier wasn’t super easy and neither was docking there, so we went to a smaller area of the docks, where we managed to anchor. There was no one in this area and we had to walk quite a bit to get to the customs office – this took a lot of time.
Then, another thing came up at the customs office, you see, because we were basically officially checked out of Croatia (even if just for a few hours) and we were re-entering the country, we needed this new “enter Croatia form” which they recently established due to COVID.
It is this form that you have to fill out online before you’re allowed to enter Croatia, which wouldn’t be a big deal, but we totally forgot about it. Well, the truth is that we didn’t actually know that we had to formally check out of Croatia and check back in until very recently.
Again, this is something that you don’t have to do every time you leave the 12-mile zone, but if you have formally declared out, you have to formally declare back in. Fortunately, the custom ladies were nice to us, even when they noticed a discrepancy in the name of the boat.
This was the issue with the registration that was done wrong. Basically they made a mistake in the name, substituting the “L” in Staatenlos with and “I”… so Staatenios… 🤦♂️- Luckily, this was not a problem for them, so they welcomed us into the country, stamped our passports, and sent us on our way.
Keep in mind that this could have been a problem, but the border control officers were really relaxed and the border control process itself was easy, well, except for this online form which we were missing.
Finally, after it was all said and done we had to do the long walk back to the main town where the harbor master’s office is for the final part of the bureaucracies. When we got the building where the office was supposed to be, we didn’t find it at first. We thought the building seemed empty and no one was working that day or that late.
Eventually, we managed to go through a door that appeared to be closed and found the place we needed to be at to pay all the temporary importation fees. It is around 200 euros for a one-year cruising fee. It doesn’t matter if we are in there for a day or one year, you still have to pay this flat fee.
You also have to pay a city tax for every night you spend onboard. This you can pay monthly, I paid for one month, and if just recently I had to pay for a second month.
After this final step, we went back to the pier with our stamped documents and they finished the importation, this is when we were finally allowed to get back on our boat snd carry on. It was almost 7 pm by the time we got back on board and from there continued to sail the final miles to the marina in Tribunj.
This is the marina where we had an appointment to haul out the boat the following morning (Monday), that same afternoon I would be flying home with my brother. It was almost sunset when we reached the marina and the nice harbor attendant got us into our spot just outside of the marina, where we docked successfully.
After almost 14 hours of sailing and formalities, we were finally done! When the day started, I didn’t really expect everything to work out so well. I mean, it was a long day, but the export and import worked so well that it all happened in one day and we made it to the marina in Tribunj right on schedule!
After docking, we went to Tribunj for a nice meal and to celebrate the day’s success. Tribunj by the way is this nice little village, located about six miles northwest of Vodice. It was a quick celebration and an early night since the next morning, we had to be at the airport by 10 am to catch our flight to Frankfurt.
Moreover, we had to be up super early because we had an appointment with the local yacht servicing company at the marina to tell them exactly what renovations to do while we’re gone and pay them for their services. This meeting went on from 8-10, which worked out great because I even got to see how they hauled my boat out of the water.
The boat was hauled out at 8 am – we had priority that morning – and I enjoyed seeing how the lift worked – it was this big crane that has 4 wheels – with a lifter that has ropes which go under the boat, and this mechanism can easily lift the boat very high. Cool to see several tones of boat up in the air being brought to a place in dryland within minutes.
After the boat was on land, I oversaw the whole process of preparing the boat for storage. They clean off the boat and spray it with an antifouling mixture they coat the bottom of the boat so that marine organisms can’t grow on it.
I was glad I got to supervise the whole process of how it went on land and how they treated the boat. It really gave me peace of mind to leave my new home in their hands. At around 10 am my brother and I took a taxi to Split airport, which was about 90 minutes away. We arrived just in time to make our flight back to Germany.
Anyways, this is the story of the 3 day weekend where everything worked out better than expected and I could finally say I am the proud owner of the Staatenlos Catamaran. This weekend was the perfect ending to my first month in Croatia.
After Croatia, I went to Germany for 10 days for a couple of meetings. While there, I drove to Dusseldorf to meet a tax consultant friend of mine. I also had a few interviews there and then I went to my hometown for a bit before going to Berlin. In Berlin, I met my brother, a few friends, and got some work done before heading to Slovenia for a conference. Stay tuned to hear all about that time and my road trip from Slovenia back to Croatia!