Navigating Brexit and the French Visa System

Waking in the morning to the news that we were leaving the European Union was not what we were expecting! We thought about the impact on the country, we thought about the implications for our children and our grandchildren but mostly we thought about Plan B, our beautiful new Piper barge that had majestically cruised along the Thames and was now ready to take us on our long awaited adventure through the waterways of Europe.

Could this still happen was the immediate question and the answer was, yes of course it could.

There were, however, many questions with answers that were not as easy or as straightforward.

For many years we had followed other Piper owners freely moving around from country to country with no complicated rules or restrictions, that was exactly what we were expecting to do, but clearly, that was not what we were going to be able to do, well certainly not without making adjustments to the original plan.

The months that followed were stressful for us, whilst trying to find the best solutions to the Brexit-enforced changes we were also heavily impacted by Covid restrictions.

We managed to take advantage of a small gap in the travel restrictions and ‘Plan B’ took us on a wonderful adventure across the channel and into France! We had made it! 

We cruised, unrestricted, enjoying every moment and making our way to our winter mooring in beautiful Brugge. 

But then what? 

Could we stay .. well NO! Not indefinitely as we would be working outside the 90 days in every 180 ruling. 

Many questions followed as we sat in the marina in Brugge unable to move or to go home due to Covid restrictions and with our 90-day clock ticking! 

Piper owners were doing what Piper owners do so well, all trying to help each other find a way through the maze of uncertainty but there were so many individual interpretations of the new regulations it became even more confusing and even more distressing.

How would we prove our boat was in Europe before the Brexit deadline, What should we do about health insurance and what on earth were the VAT implications? 

Our internet usage was now restricted in Europe and import duties were payable on goods we bought from the UK plus what were the new regulations for the dog? 

Everything seemed to come with complications, worries and a price tag! 

Despite applying and jumping through the many required hoops we were unsuccessful in obtaining an M Card (Belgium 5-year visa) 

Short-term visas were not available in Belgium or the Netherlands. 

Was it time to admit defeat and sell Plan B? Certainly not! We knew there was a path to get us back on track we just had to find it, and we did find it.

We are now into our second year travelling on a 6 month French visa, whilst this was not easy to obtain in year 1, (mainly due to the boat being our place of residence in France which seemed to confuse the tick box application form! ) by year 2 our situation was better understood and the process was much more straightforward. We have no concerns about our application for year 3.

Outside of the Visa, we have our 90 days which means that we can happily cruise, unrestricted for 9 months. Three months of the year we do need to be out of Europe but for us, that is much-needed family time and the balance is perfect. 

Our dog now has a French passport, he is happy to be addressed as Monsieur Baxter and travel with him is easier and cheaper! 

Our passports are full of stamps as we go backwards and forwards between our fabulous boating lifestyle and our equally fabulous family. 

It has certainly been challenging and at times very frustrating but many of the uncertainties have gone and most of the questions can now be answered with a good deal of confidence. 

Our Plan B is now fully back on track and I am confident that with a bit of adjustment here and there anybody looking to live the amazing Piper dream can find a way and would certainly not regret it.