Customs Entry Procedures into Cherbourg / St Vaast, Normandy, France

Passport stamp in / out with customs clearance on a recent trip to Cherbourg / St Vaast – Easter & Jubilee 2022

Many schools and charter companies have shied away from doing Yacht Cross Channel Hops to Cherbourg & St Vaast in Normandy, France after Brexit (that awful covid spell) and the more complicated entry / exit procedures that apply in 2022. We just wanted to point out what we have experienced so you get a bit of a ‘heads up’.
You now have to stamp your passport in / out by either visiting the PAF or getting them to come to your boat. The PAF are the Frontier Police – (Service Départemental de la Police aux Frontières PAF.)

It has been seen by many to be too onerous to get all the passports stamped for entry and exit for short duration trips. This is what we experienced at Easter 2022 on a Cross Channel Hop and later on May Day Bank Holiday plus the Jubilee 4 Day 2022. We contacted the very friendly marina team at Port Chanteyreyne in Cherbourg before we made the Cross Channel in 2022 to ask advice and get a ‘comfort’ feel. They do a flyer that they can email you.
Contact Port Chantereyne here: portchantereyne@cherbourg.fr
Website here: https://www.portchantereyne.fr/

Fill in French customs entry form and email it to PAF in advance.
Phone PAF on 0033 233 88 72 20 when you are about to moor up and let them know what berth you are on. We did this at 0230 BST on an Easter 2022 trip and they came to the dockside at the back of the boat and stamped them whilst using a very unsteady electric point as a makeshift table and shining a torch to check each face against the passport. You need each crew member available at that time. They arrived just 15 minutes after the call to check passports and stamp them up. We left our Nav lights and engine light on so they could find us as we could see their van scouting around. The entry took about 20 minutes total and we were free to take down the Q flag and wander off into France. We informed them (PAF) that we would be leaving the next day. They said ring in the morning to check what to do.

PAF Office Cherbourg - Walk through this gap!
PAF Office Cherbourg – Walk through this gap!

We rang the next morning and they said come to the Police aux Frontières PAF office – Address: 27, rue Dom Pedro, 50100 Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France (20 minute walk from the visitor berths at the marina Port Chantereyne) and get your passports stamped out. You go over the bridge in the old port so there are cafes on the way. They required each person to be there along with their passport. We walked back to the boat and cast off. The exit stamp process was about 1hr total (including the walk to the office and back) as they seemed to be looking stuff up on the computer in the office with the passports. NB: The office is in the corner of the courtyard where there were Police vehicles parked. It seems like you shouldn’t walk into that area – but you do! The office is at the bottom left. There is a picture on Google and the picture of the group on this post shows the gap you walk through between the buildings. It does say face coverings need to be worn in the office but that may just be an old poster.

PAF Office in Cherbourg. Inside the Courtyard.
PAF Office in Cherbourg. Inside the Courtyard.

If you do not wish to leave the port on an overnight stay in Cherbourg you do not have to have your passport presented / stamped. I got this sent back to me by PAF on receipt of our forms as advice for a short overnight stay… ‘Bonjour,  Si vous ne restez qu’une nuit à Cherbourg sans quitter le port , vous n’avez pas besoin de compostage sur passeport. Si vous désirez quitter le port ,merci de prendre contact avec la capitainerie qui fera appel a nos services. Cordialement’.

Update St VAAST – Jubilee Bank Holiday 2022
The Cherbourg PAF also cover St Vaast.
I was told by the Chantereyne Marina office that they will either drive down to St Vaast to stamp passports – or if you are going to visit Cherbourg the next day they may be more relaxed and tell you to come in once you have arrived at Cherbourg. The Marina office seems to think that the Cherbourg PAF are fairly relaxed.
On the 4 Day Jubilee Bank Holiday we entered France via St Vaast and the Marina staff were phoned by PAF after they received the PAF email form. PAF then arranged a time to come to the boat and stamp the passports. They had to then return the next day for some of us, to ‘stamp us out’, and were good as gold with the time keeping as St Vaast is lock in / lock out and the whole area is tidally sensitive. Considering they said it took 45 minutes for them to come down from Cherbourg they were keen to see the other boats needing any stamps at the same time and we did see people chasing after them!

Then we got the slightly confusing bit… and we are not sure if this is the local office trying to simplify things or it will be practise adopted by all PAF. We are also not sure if it is because we are a sailing school and our boats are well known to the Cherbourg office.
PAF then altered their policy between stamping the boats on the dock. There were 4 officers sent down and they discussed it between themselves, after they had stamped 1 boat, deferring to a female officer in the group. She then said that we do not have to be stamped at all as we are ‘quick turnaround’ (we generally only spend 1 day at each port due to training requirement). We could send the form and then go off around town, have a meal etc and then just make sure both arrival and exit forms are sent. She said we could not spend any night ashore, had to sleep on the boat, stay within the local area and if someone had a medical emergency and had to be admitted to hospital they would need to be stamped ‘in’. So there you have it, about as clear as mud now! I am sure it will be clearer as time goes on but obviously this whole process is becoming a bit of a pain for the Frontier Police. .’

There were not a lot of UK boats in the harbour at Easter 2022 (we saw 4) and most of the ‘visitor’ pontoons were now filled with mainly small local boats. The way PAF deal with it may change if UK yacht numbers increase significantly as it could become a bit of a headache.

Follow Google Maps to PAF Office – 27 Rue Dom Pedro, Cherbourg

Update: Spring May Bank Holiday Cross Channel Hop to Cherbourg
There were more British boats in Port Chantereyne this bank holiday. PAF came to the boat within 15 minutes of phoning in on arrival at 2000hrs BST. We told them we would put mast lights on to guide them to the berth. On departure some of the group walked to the office – some found it and some didn’t regardless of using Google maps and asking a Policeman so check out our photo. However, PAF happened to be at the marina office for some of our crew and we got stamped out there. Cannot fault the friendliness of the PAF. Excellent customer service!

Yachtline reporting on return to UK is a different story in terms of timings and we are talking about a couple of trips where we have experienced delays or lack of action. On return to UK our experience is that if you are all British Nationals then you can get dealt with quickly. Possibly in 10 minutes over the phone. However, if you have non GB passport holders be prepared for frustrating delays in clearance for hours on end, regardless of the status of the passport holder and a fair degree of confusion with people on the other end of the phone not being able to react in any sort of timely manner.
It would seem Border Force just do not have the resources to deal with the system. We sent the e-C1331 forms in at 0230 hrs and the yacht was all okay with customs but we required to wait for clearance from Border Force.
However, it took 4 calls and we finally got the okay (which was a phone call from Border Force who spoke to the Swedish guy on the yacht) to take down the Q flag from Border Force at 1210 hrs. This was with a Swedish passport holder resident in UK with ‘Pre-settled status’.
Every time we phoned Yachtline (who were excellent with their customer care – and sympathetic to our need to catch a tide) they had to ring central office of Border Force who in turn had to contact the Portsmouth office. Yachtline said that they had been ringing Border Force regularly and that there is no direct number for our use. In another case we have experienced frustration and major delay.
I have every sympathy for Border Force having to do additional checks and their manning levels but do be prepared for possible delays in busy periods!