Cabotage refers to transport services within a country provided by a foreign haulier. Cabotage often refers to the right of the foreign company to provide the services. The term originates from the shipping industry and referred to coastal shipping, the journey from cape to cape along the coast. Cabotage is based on the French “caboter” for “going from port to port”.

The freedom of cabotage for a foreign means of transport allows for economical and environmentally optimal transport, since after a transport to the country in question, a return transport is also possible. Without cabotage, the means of transport would have to return empty. In principle, the transport by the foreign company does not begin and end in the home country.

cabotage in the EU

The EU makes a formal distinction between small and large cabotage.

Small cabotage – transport by a foreign company within an EU country
Major cabotage – transport by a foreign company (third country) between two EU countries

Appropriate cabotage bans should protect domestic logistics companies from foreign competition. Within the EU, however, the cabotage bans have been gradually relaxed for countries that joined the EU later. However, cabotage is still limited, especially in land transport.

land transport cabotage

After the international transport to Germany, the foreign company is allowed to carry out up to three cabotage operations with the same vehicle within a period of 7 days after unloading the transported goods. Exceeding the number of cabotage journeys as well as the 7-day time limit is subject to heavy fines.

cabotage by air and sea

The air transport cabotage regimes have been free for all EU airlines within the EU since April 1997 (air freedoms). In maritime transport, too, cabotage has been free for all EU shipping companies within the EU member states since 1999.