Boat tourists win major victory
July 15, 2011
The European Boating Association (EBA) and foreign boat tourists keen on making extended trips along the Norwegian coast have won a major victory over the government and local tax authorities. Foreign-owned boats will now be able to stay in Norwegian waters longer than just six weeks, and the boats can be laid up in Norway over the winter without facing huge tax bills.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week that the Norwegian customs agency (Toll- og avgiftsdirektoratet) has agreed to propose changing current rules, to allow foreign boat owners to store their boats anywhere they like along the Norwegian coast. Until now, assets left by foreign tourists in Norway could only be stored in certified customs warehouses to avoid paying heavy duties. There are few if any customs warehouses that can accommodate boats.
The issue arose most publicly a few years ago, when a Swedish retiree embarked on a life-long dream to sail his boat along the entire Norwegian coast. The journey is too long, however, to make in just one summer, so Kjell Olsson left his sailboat in a marina in the northern city of Mo i Rana over the winter, intent on returning the next summer to continue the journey.
Olsson ended up with a shock: Norwegian customs, backed by a court decision, demanded around NOK 300,000 (USD 55,000) in VAT and a special motor tax because he had left his boat in Norway for more than six weeks. The customs agency thus ruled the boat had effectively been imported into Norway, triggering the demand for VAT and the motor tax.
The EBA pointed out that the European Union has far more liberal tax regulations to accommodate boat owners sailing from country to country, and to allow off-season lay-up. While Norway is not a member of the European Union (EU), it is a member of the EU’s Free Trade Association and must abide by many EU-inspired rules.
The boating association wrote a letter to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg last month and now its complaints apparently have been heard. “We propose that folks should be able to store their boats anywhere in the country and outside customs’ warehouses,” Louise Holtoug Amundsen of the customs agency told DN. They must, however, apply to the agency in advance and receive approval, Holtoug Amundsen told DN.
The new, proposed maximum period for having a boat in Norway will now in practice increase from six weeks to two years. Holtoug Amundsen admitted that Olsson’s unhappy experience “made us more aware” of the regulatory hindrances.
“We will still monitor this, but we will try to be more tourist-friendly,” she said. “Then foreigners can sail in Norway over several seasons, so they can see the fantastic coast we have.”
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