Buying a Boat in Europe (8 Answers You Should Know)

Shopping for a new boat is an exciting time.

You’ve saved and researched, compared models, and decided on the perfect boat for you and your family.

You may have noticed that many boats are considerably cheaper in some European countries and wondered if it may be cheaper to buy in Europe and bring the boat to the U.S.

In this article, we will explore this topic and help you determine if buying in Europe makes sense.

Let’s get started!

1. Does it Make Sense to Import a Boat from Europe to the U.S.?

On the surface, buying a boat in Europe seems to be a good idea.

Prices can be significantly lower than in the U.S. for the same boat.  However, price isn’t the only consideration here.

Factors such as taxes, bureaucratic fees, legal fees, broker fees, system conversion costs, and shipping/travel costs all come into play.

Add to that the additional time required to test the boat and bring it back to the states, and any value gained from a low price quickly evaporates.

In the end, your specific circumstances will dictate whether buying a boat in Europe makes sense for you.

If you plan to spend some time traveling by boat in Europe, then buying a boat and selling it at the end of your trip may be a viable option.  I would reserve this tactic for extended trips of six months or longer and be sure to buy a popular model that will hold resale value.

If you consider this option, make sure you understand the Value Added Tax implications and figure that into your calculations.

2. How Much Cheaper Are Boats in Europe?

As with all things, the answer to this question can be complicated.

Depending on the boat, you can save up to 38% or more when purchasing in Europe.

However, some models can be more expensive than in the U.S.

For more information, see our article Reasons Boats Are Cheaper In Europe (Explained!)

3. What Types of Boats are Cheaper in Europe?

The most savings seem to be in models of sailboats, particularly in Greece and Croatia.

Other types of boats such as cabin cruisers and yachts tend to have the same price or even higher prices than in the U.S.

4. How Do You Import a Boat From Europe to the United States?

Many steps go into importing a boat or any large object from Europe to the United States.

This is a lengthy, expensive, and complicated process, so make sure you are fully prepared to take it on.

Here are a few things you’ll need to do or know before importing:

Hire a Broker that Serves the Country of Purchase:

A reputable and experienced broker is worth their weight in gold.

Not only can they help you navigate the European market, but they will also have connections in local governments and customs houses.

Use the MYBA website to find a reputable broker (see references below).

Hire an Import/Export Lawyer:

The legal environment surrounding international purchases of titled property such as a sailboat is complicated.

Having someone on your side who is familiar with the law on both sides will help protect you from fraud and ensure that all paperwork and legal requirements are met.

Have the Boat Inspected by a Reputable Company:

A broker should be able to help here.

All inspections should get a detailed analysis of the boat and its history.

If you can’t get an inspection, consider looking elsewhere.

Identify Any EPA Compliance Issues:

When you come to the U.S., you must provide proof that the boat meets EPA standards.

It is best to keep this in mind early in the process.

Identify Systems That Will Need to be Converted:

This is often one of the largest expenses involved in bringing a boat to the U.S.  Europe uses 230V(+/-10%) 50Hz electrical power while the U.S. uses 120V 60Hz.

To operate your electrical systems in the U.S., you may need to completely rewire your boat and replace all electrical equipment and outlets.  This can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Another common problem is the LPG containers and connectors.

Add to this that every bolt and fitting is metric and that replacement parts(particularly for the engine) may be impossible to find, and the allure of buying in Europe dwindles.

Keep in mind that a boat with odd fittings and hard-to-find parts will not be as marketable on resale.

If Possible, Inspect the Boat in Person:

Buying anything sight unseen is never recommended.

You will want to plan to be in the country of purchase for several months to complete the process.

This will give you time to have everything in order, inspect the boat, and perform sea trials.

Value Added Tax(VAT).

If you plan to tour in conjunction with your boat purchase, you may end up running into issues with VAT.

Many used vessels have a VAT paid status; however, some do not.

If purchasing a new boat and having it flagged in the U.S., you will have 18 months in the EU before the VAT must be paid.

If the boat is already flagged in an EU country, you will need to prove VAT-paid status at most ports.

The current average VAT rate in Europe is 21%.

Final Checks:

Make sure to contact the local customs officials in the country of purchase to ensure you have everything in order before leaving with the boat.

It is also a good idea to know requirements at stops along the way if you plan to cross the Atlantic on your own.

Here is a list of things to keep in mind:

  1. Ensure all paperwork is in order and properly translated.
  2. The industry standard for contracts is the MYBA sales contract.  It is best to work with sellers that have no problem using this contract.
  3. Use Consulate recommended translation service.
  4. Never sign anything that has not been translated properly into English.
  5. Contact Customs officials on both sides to ensure compliance.
  6. In the U.S., you will need a bill of sale, an EPA Engine Declaration Form, and 1.5% of the sale price to pay the duty at the port of entry.

5. Before Traveling With Your Boat:

Make Final Inspections:

Before buying a boat, it helps to look at every aspect of the vessel to ensure that everything is in perfect condition.

This helps you avoid costly pitfalls.

A marine surveyor can help you identify defects in a new boat.

However, you need to know what to check when making such a huge purchase.

See our article Boat Inspection Checklist: 31 Important Steps (Complete Guide) for more information.

Perform Sea Trials:

After you have the boat in possession, make sure to exercise all of her systems in local waters.

This is particularly important if buying any boat that is still under warranty.  Once you are in the U.S., any warranty issues will difficult to resolve.

You will also need to work out the gallons per hour your boat uses when under engine power.

This calculation will be critical if you plan to cross the Atlantic on your own.

Prepare for Crossing:

If you are inexperienced, it is best to have your boat shipped to the U.S.

If, however, you decide to attempt the crossing on your own, preparation is key.  There are many books and articles available to help you prepare a checklist for crossing.

If you plan to sail across the Atlantic on your own, you can never be too prepared.

Make sure you have planned and practiced for any likely emergency scenarios, and take a few local voyages to make sure nothing is overlooked.

6. Sailing Your Ship or Boat to the U.S.

One way to ensure a safer passage is to cross with a Rally group like the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).

The ARC is a “race” with around 200 participants.

Crossing with a rally or group adds the security of knowing other vessels are there in emergencies. When in doubt, you can hire an experienced skipper to help.

If you are shipping your boat, the shipping company will provide instructions and help you with the process.

Shipping can be expensive ($5,000-$15000 or more), so make sure to add this cost into your calculations:

  1. Pay import tax
  2. File EPA Compliance paperwork

Convert Necessary Systems

Once you are in the U.S., you will need to convert any necessary systems for them to work properly here.

Make sure to hire a reputable professional to do the work and be prepared for the added expense.

Enjoy Your Boat!

Last but not least, remember to enjoy your time on the water with friends and family.

This is what boating is all about, after all.

It is easy to get caught up in the process and the worries that inevitably come with such an undertaking.

The stress will always be there, don’t forget to have fun along the way!

7. Pitfalls to Avoid when Buying a Boat in Europe:

Make sure to consider these pitfalls:

  1. Avoid disreputable sellers/brokers. 
    • Make sure to use a broker from the MYBA list (see references below) as a start.
  2. Translate all paperwork/sign nothing that is not in English. 
    • As previously stated, make sure to use a translation service recommended by the consulate.
  3. Keep abreast of VAT tax rates in the countries you are searching in, and always note the VAT status of any boat you are considering.
    • Plan on having the boat out of the EU in less than 18 months if the VAT is not paid.

8. How Much Does it Cost to take a Boat from Europe to the U.S?

Crossing the Atlantic can take up to 40 days; therefore, you should plan for at least 50 days of food and water.

At an average cost of $11.00 per person per day, plan for $550.00 per person for food.

A water generator is recommended and multiple(wind, solar, or water current) electricity sources.  Don’t forget to add in the cost of any luxury items like wine into your calculations.

When sailing across the Atlantic, it is recommended to have enough fuel for 400-500 Nautical Miles under engine power.

You will need to know the cruising speed of your vessel under power and the gallons of fuel per hour(GPH) underway.  Once you have these calculations, you can predict fuel requirements for your trip.

If we assume 2 GPH and 6 knots per hour, we will need 166 gallons of fuel.

The current price of diesel in Los Palmas, Gran Canaria, is $4.63/gallon.  Therefore fuel alone will cost $772.00.  Fuel storage does become an issue on some boats.

Final Thoughts:

In the end, buying in Europe doesn’t make the most sense.

Any potential savings are inevitably eaten up in endless fees and expenses related to taxes, converting systems, and shipping/sailing to the U.S.

When you add that the inevitable loss in resale value, the hassle and expense outweigh any savings.

As always, have pleasant travels, calm winds, and fair seas. Be safe and watch out for your fellow boaters!

References:

Domestic Regulations for Emissions from Marine Compression-ignition (Diesel) Engines

MYBA Association

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