The somewhat definitive guide to your Green Mamba: Schengen Visas and Yachting in France

The South African passport: aptly nicknamed "The Green Mamba"

Beneficio Crew? Stamping out? Transit letters? Dock walking on a tourist visa?

It’s no secret that South African yachties of the past came to France on tourist visas, walked the docks, found work on board, overstayed their 90-day welcome and (somehow) got away with it.

Those days are now gone.

Nowadays, life’s a little harder as internal immigration agencies crack down on the issuing of visas and borders become more tightly controlled and better informed.

One only has to read a few Facebook forums to understand that applying for yachting visas has become a huge problem for South African seafarers, who haven’t come to grips with the time, cost or legalities involved in staying on the right side of the law.

The inconvenient truth is that no one really knows how this whole system works. Some are afraid to ask and others are too lazy to care. Professional advice is often contradictory or outdated and online forums are filled with misinformed know-it-alls.

One thing is for certain: it is a priority for South African seafarers to ensure their visas are in order, especially if they plan on making any long-term commitment to Europe and its luxury yachting industry.

Let me start off by saying this: my own experience has turned me into the world’s biggest skeptic when it comes to Schengen visas. It takes a real master to handle a serpent as vicious as the Green Mamba (a nickname for our beloved South African Passport).

I have spent hundreds of hours reading up on Schengen visas and visiting specialists on the topic. I’ve been told one thing and then learned the complete opposite was true. If I had to take a dart-throw at it, I would guess I’ve spent around R40,000 a year on visas.

Still — that makes me no expert in the field of immigration law; far from it. Even this article may leave you with more questions than answers.

As far as I see it, the immigration world is an intricately woven matrix of fine-tuned laws and political players. Immigration law is a collision of constantly changing intra- and inter-national laws, individual nationalities, yacht flag states, maritime authorities, maritime law, the list is endless. This makes it almost impossible for the layman to navigate.

If you’re seeking advice in a Facebook forum, chances are you’ll come out completely empty-handed or totally misinformed. One or the other.

At the end of the day, immigration is no joke. It takes time and it costs money to find legal and long-lasting visa solutions. Make the effort and do the research. At the very least, it’s worth trying to get it right.

What a French Schengen Visa looks like in your passport. Adapted from: http://bit.ly/1DEQSRl
What a French Schengen Visa looks like in your passport. Adapted from: http://bit.ly/1DEQSRl

For the purposes of yachting visas, the industry is most governed by short-stay (Type C) and long-stay (Type D) visas.

Short-stay (Type C) visas are issued on a single-entry, double-entry or multiple-entry basis. Depending on your situation — including the duration and reason for your stay — there are a number of different visas that fall within the Schengen long-stay (Type D) category.

It’s important to know that each candidate’s situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and by taking advice from someone who knows what they’re doing. You’ll quickly learn that there’s no one size fits all when it comes to yachting visas. What worked for me, might not work for you and visa versa.

Below are four current visa scenarios for yacht crew on South African passports in France:

  1. The tourist visa route
  2. The short-stay seaman visa (France)
  3. The long-stay seaman visa (France)
  4. The seaman visa (Beneficio Crew/Netherlands) — Deleted from this blog 04/07/2015

1) THE TOURIST VISA ROUTE

There is one thing you need to know about the short-stay (Type C) tourist visa: don’t ever apply for it if you’re interested in joining the super yachting industry.

The tourist visa is exactly that — a visa for visitors to Schengen territories. People who enter on this visa need to be out of the Schengen area within 90-days or when the visa expires — whichever date comes first. Tourist visas that have a much later expiry date apply the principle of 90-days in and 90-days out the Schengen area while the visa is valid.

Additionally, you are not allowed to look for or accept work on this visa. In reality, this is loosely applied by the French authorities who typically leave dock walkers alone. On paper however, dock-walking remains illegal on a tourist visa. If you are caught, you are red-handed.

Don’t ever apply for it if you’re interested in joining the super yachting industry

The sad fact is that South African yachties still come over on this visa and find themselves stuck in France, backed into a corner, holding the wrong visa in hand. That’s when it gets tricky and expensive.

Those who come over on this visa and find work are best off returning to the place in which their tourist visa was originally issued and reapplying for the correct seafarer visas. There has been discussion about flying to Turkey/Croatia to apply for seafarer visas however this remains unconfirmed. And somehow it doesn’t seem worth the schlepp.

Some shipping agents might argue that it is possible to “stamp out” of your tourist visa at French immigration and they will organise this for you at a steep fee; but be aware that this won’t be tolerated by the French visa-issuing authorities in South Africa when you apply for your next visa.

Remember too that while the bigger boats are more likely to have management companies, shipping agents and pursers sorting out all the visa hoo-ha for their crew, smaller boat crew are often left to organise this on their own, usually with smaller budgets and less legal support. Know what to say to a captain when he asks you these things in an interview.

A final word of advice: those who come over on this visa must return home before the visa expires or when their 90-days are up. It is never worth over-staying. Finished and klaar. Better luck next time.

Port Vauban (Antibes) in the early morning
Port Vauban (Antibes) in the early morning

2) THE SHORT-STAY SEAMAN VISA (FRANCE)

The short-stay (Type C) seaman visa is issued to South Africans who are currently employed on a vessel not registered in France that is cruising French waters for a period equal to or less than 90-days in every 180-days. This visa is valid for 1-5 years, depending on the crew contract.

A topic that’s hotly contested with the 90-day stay is the idea of “pausing” or “stamping out” on short-stay visas.

Some shipping agents agree to stamp crew members out of the Schengen zone once they come onto a boat’s crew list and in effect pause their 90-day visa. At the end of the season or contract, the crew member is stamped back into the Schengen zone 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 it’s unsure how well this applies to the luxury yachting industry with its constantly changing cruising itineraries.

A topic that’s hotly contested is the idea of “pausing” or “stamping out” on short-stay visas

When it comes to the embassies however, time spent at sea or time spent on board in port — even if recorded in the seaman’s log book — does not put a stop to or pause the 90-days granted on this or any other short-stay Schengen visa to France.

As a rule of thumb, a Type C visa cannot be changed, renewed or extended from within the Schengen territory. This needs to be done at an embassy outside of the Schengen zone (i.e. Miami, or South Africa) and applied for in person.

For more information on the documents needed to apply for this visa, visit Capago’s Website

3) THE LONG-STAY SEAMAN VISA (FRANCE)

The long-stay (Type D) seaman visa is issued to South Africans who are currently employed on a vessel that is not registered in France but that will be more than 90-days in a row in the Schengen states. I would argue it’s the better Schengen to get.

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 you will be taken for a medical and brief interview with the French authorities. If all is in order, you are granted what is called a Carte de Sejour Visiteur visa — one of the very many long-stay (Type D) visas available for foreigners in France.

This visa can be renewed annually in France, provided all paperwork is in order and there is no change in the applicant’s situation. The visa renewal process should begin three months before the visa is due to expire.

The good news about this visa is that it places you within the French system from the get go. Initially, it’s a hassle to get but in the long run it will save you time and money. Although your rights are initially limited (you will not be permitted to work ashore, be a French tax-payer etc.) it does put your foot in the door if you plan on settling in France at a later point.

The documents that are needed to apply for this visa on the South African side are also available from the Capago website.

4) THE SEAMAN VISA (BENEFICIO CREW/NETHERLANDS)

[The section on Beneficio Crew has been removed by the author of this blog.]

The choice is yours and the buck stops with you. Looking back on my spiel with Schengen visas, I’d advise you one thing: do your research. Don’t accept one person’s word as gospel. Learn, question and figure it out for yourself. It’s one long, expensive, time-taking thing that is worth it.

Feel free to add comments and worthwhile input to this article or join my visa discussions on Facebook at: Yacht Crew Visas

For further queries with visas in France, you can also contact The Swedish African directly and I will put you in touch with the specialists who helped me along the way.

Some of this article’s contents was sourced from direct interviews with immigration authorities, thought-leaders and the following websites:

France Diplomatie: An official site of the French government
Capago: The Schengen Link in South Africa
Schengen Visa Info
Immi Help

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 Swedish African nor it 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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