Foreign boats in GNR raid

Recent surprise inspections from the GNR’s Fiscal Brigade on foreign boats moored in Portuguese waters have surprised and dismayed both owners and tourist associations. Police officers apparently arrived unannounced at boats bearing foreign flags moored throughout the country, but seemed to be concentrating on the Algarve. Officers checked for documentation then tried to collect the equivalent of road tax – an obligation which most boat owners know nothing about.

Vehicle tax on foreign owned vessels falls due when they remain in Portuguese national territory for a period of 180 days or more. The amount of tax due depends on the power of the engine and the size of the boat – applying the same principle as stamp duty for cars.

Until a few years ago, several local authorities issued a form to crew members when they entered Portuguese waters, warning people they had to pay the tax if they stayed for more than the prescribed period. The tax would then be paid in port at the offices of the maritime police. But this practice was subsequently abandoned, simply because foreigners seemed unaware of the tax.

Algarve hotel association AHETA – Associação dos Hotéis e Empreendimentos Turísticos do Algarve – has criticised the recent police checks for their heavy-handedness. “Boat-owners, who generally come from EU countries where this requirement does not exist and never did exist, have nonetheless paid up. But they have been surprised by the litany of other bureaucratic demands, such as the necessity of supplying número de contribuinte, residência and a fixed address in Portugal.” AHETA does not, however, advocate non-payment. “We do not dispute the legality of the action conducted by the fiscal division of the GNR (even though we disagree with the current law). But we cannot condone police methods, namely the extreme zeal of GNR officers and the excessive manpower involved in what are minor contraventions.”

Elidérico Viegas, AHETA’s President, told The Resident he believed that very few people knew they were supposed to pay the tax. “This law dates back to 1978. Some years ago, when boats arrived in marinas, the authorities would warn the crew about the tax but for the last six or seven years this has not happened. Authorities have not paid too much attention to this tax in recent years.”

It would appear that the action came after the authorities simply decided to rake in some extra revenue, hence the sudden flurry of activity last week. But Viegas believes the legislation has become obsolete. “This law should have been changed to reflect membership of the EU norms – there really should be uniformity across the board. Involving so many police all over the country just to check foreign boats in marinas seems to be far too complicated.”

But Resident contributor and yachtsman Martin Northey said he saw nothing wrong with the regulations. “British people have got to realise they must play the game – people bleat without thinking. People can take their boat to Spain if they want to or ensure that they spend less than 180 days in the country,” he explained. “It’s perfectly legal to find ways to avoid paying tax, but tax evasion, on the other hand, is illegal.”