Fun With Customs Regulations – Sailing A Charter Yacht From Greece To Turkey
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Fun With Customs Regulations – Sailing A Charter Yacht From Greece to Turkey

Ask any cruising yachtie to tell you their most scary or frustrating experience of sailing around the world – and they are likely to come up with tales of encounters with customs officials, not storms or sea monsters!

Some country's customs procedures are more user-friendly than others; sadly Greek Port Authorities do not qualify for this category. Their paperwork requirements change yearly, and sometimes from one office to another. And whilst the Turks are often more helpful, trekking around town from one office to another requires the training of a marathon runner and the patience of several saints.

In some of the Greek Dodecanese islands, one can almost stand on a hilltop and wave at people sunbathing on Turkish beaches - how enticing is that for sailors to just “hop across” to the other side for a quick visit ?? Change flags en route, no-one will know. Well - chances are probably not. But it’s Russian roulette – get stopped without the correct papers, and you just don’t want to know about the consequent “fun” you’ll have with customs officials.

So if you’re on a charter holiday in Greece or Turkey and fancy a trip to “the other side” - is it a bureaucratic Mission Impossible ??

No - but you need to know how best to jump the hoops. A week’s sailing in each of Greece and Turkey is well worth the paperwork hassle; for just a few days, you might think again.

First of all, one can only enter and exit a country through an official Port of Entry. Once you have checked out of one country, go directly to the next Port of Entry - Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Stop in that alluring little anchorage overnight en route. (OK, so we have all bent this rule a few times, but the “broken engine” story may not always sell !).

Ports of Entry in Greece (eastern Aegean)

Chios, Samos, Patmos, Kalymnos (sometimes !), Kos, Symi, Rhodes

Ports of Entry in SW Turkey

Turgutreis, Bodrum, Datca, Bozburun, Marmaris, Fethiye, Kas, Finike

Surprisingly, the volume of paperwork is somewhat less in Greece than Turkey. When you are ready to exit from Greece, you first visit Customs & Passport Control. Be sure to have a completed crewlist ready and of course everyone’s passport. Make sure your crew are all in easy summoning distance - it’s guaranteed that if everyone has wandered off around town, customs will insist on seeing them. If they are all dutifully assembled on the boat, they will tell you it is not necessary.

If you have any crewmembers who are travelling from outside the EU - tell them to be sure to get a stamp in their passport on their first country of entry to the EU. Some countries (notably France) don’t bother at times, and this throws local customs officials into a complete tizz.

Assuming you pass first base successfully - your next step is Port Police. If you are chartering a boat from a local Greek company – TELL THEM that you want to go to Turkey, and get them to check that the boat paperwork is 100% in order. The slightest “undotted i” or “uncrossed t” may scupper your Turkey plans in an instant!

Sometimes there may be an Immigration office in between – another official to glare at your paperwork, and at times charge you 30eur (for what, we have never been sure – just pay it and move along!). This seems to be a random occurrence, possibly related to the time of season (ie they are keen as mustard early in the season, on extended siesta later in the summer).

Officially speaking, there should be a “Medical / Quarantine inspection” somewhere in the process, which thankfully seems to have vanished in most ports. On our list of Fun Times With Customs, one of our favourites is the time that Kalymnos first became a Port of Entry. No doubt proud of their new status, they were clearly determined to do everything by the book. A doctor duly turned up on the dock, complete with black bag – and proceeded to have the crew of two boats stick their tongues out and all say AHHHHHhhhhhh ! We were looking for the hidden camera, but no – they were serious, we were not to be the next reality show!

And that’s that ! Easy-peasy, right ? Actually – the Greek side is not too bad, as long as there are no paperwork inconsistencies, or the customs guy had a big party on the ouzo the night before. Assuming you are on a Greek charter yacht, there are few expenses to pay. Allow about 3-4hrs to do thecheck-out; although you may get lucky, we did it in 45 minutes once, a record !

The main bureaucratic fun starts in Turkey. Their attitude is usually helpful, but the process so longwinded, you need to allow at least half a day. You must visit FIVE offices, and they must all be in the correct order - there’s no skipping from Passport Police to Harbour Master, just because their offices are next to each other. Oh no, you must get the stamp from Immigration in between, which is halfway across town. And it does include a Quarantine/Doctor’s stamp (although no tongues!)

To be fair, things are changing in the newer Turkish marinas - notably Turgutreis, they’ve actually managed to put all five offices in the same building. Still, it is a time-consuming process, and the costs have been rising every year. One must buy a transit log, pay individual visa fees, tax for this and that. It seems also that it going to become law that foreign yachts entering Turkey for the first time MUST employ a customs agent to do their paperwork.

Actually, an agent is an expense that we’d thoroughly recommend you pay with a smile. Hand over the boat paperwork, passports and moolah, and go have lunch. You’ve just regained at least half a day of your life, and any possible paperwork “irregularities” will be smoothed over by the agent’s second cousin in the Harbour Master office.

Do note that personal visas are also needed to enter Turkey; for most nationalities, they are issued on entry, and are no big deal. They are valid for 3 months. If you are in the slightest uncertain about your particular nationality’s status – check before you leave home !! We once had two very frustrated South Africans whom we could not persuade Passport Control to allow into the country, no matter how we begged and smiled and hinted at under-the-table stuff. They just needed to apply for their visas a week beforehand, but from from outside of Turkey. Simple, but sadly too late for their vacation.

The exact amount that one must pay for the personal visa varies wildly – some countries are free, some (eg UK, Australia, USA) cost around 15-20 eur; at one time about 6 years ago, the American visa went up to $100 usd !! Happily that did not last long - as with many such brilliant government ideas, it was soon realised that putting tourists off entering the country really wasn’t good for the economy.

And so there you go - how to sail from Greece to Turkey in 12 not-so-easy steps ! Seriously - we don’t want to make it sound like a total bureaucratic nightmare - it’s entirely do-able. But we’ve known too many people arrive with the illusion that they can just zigzag between the Turkish coast and the Greek islands - uh-uh. Armed with enough information and time, it’s a fantastic idea. A week’s sailing in each of Greece and Turkey is perfect - it is in fact one of our own favourite itineraries. Don’t try to be too ambitious and do too much distance – allow enough time to explore these two very different cultures. There are some gorgeous anchorages and harbours, and some really wonderful locals to meet en route.

Have fun and fair winds !

Street Talk

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