The Schengen zone visa – a very complicated concept and even the border guards in most countries aren’t entirely sure of the rules. Add in the complexity that it varies depending on which country you’re from and no wonder most people are lost on the subject. I spent hours on the internet pouring over embassy websites, travel forums and blogs trying to fully grasp the rules on how long we could stay in the Schengen zone. Our primary objective was to spend four months in Europe without getting deported, which put us one month over the allowed 90-days in the Schengen zone. But before I explain how we accomplished this feat, here’s a little more background on the zone.
The Schengen zone was named after an area in Luxembourg in 1985 when multiple EU countries decided to allow tourists to visit their countries without having to show their passports for a period of 90-days every six months. It’s an automatic visa for citizens of certain countries (such as the USA and Canada) and consists of 26 European countries primarily in Western Europe (for a full list of countries and a good map, visit this website). The Schengen area actually encourages international travel and the free movement of goods, information, and money, which has boosted the economies of many countries in Europe.
Now here’s how you can stay in Europe longer than 90-days. The Schengen zone excludes the UK and Ireland, where as a US Citizen you are granted a 180-day visa. So the 90-day clock essentially stops the day you leave the Schengen zone and then picks up when you return. In our case, we left France on September 20th for the UK and Ireland, then the 90-day clock started again on October 14th when we arrive back in France. Because of the date we originally arrived in the Schengen zone (September 3rd) the absolute last day we could stay in the zone was December 26th; a total of 73 days later. The 24 days we spent in the UK and Ireland bought us that time to spend in the zone. We were very careful to ensure our passports were stamped when arriving in the UK as well as in France in order to have proof of our departure & arrival dates. A very important factor when going through customs at the end of your trip.
One more very important detail to remember: the 90-day visa does not mean you can leave Europe after 90-days and then bounce right back. It’s 90-days every six month period, so essentially you’re only allowed a total of 180 days per year in the Schengen zone. Many people have been confused about this detail, and if you don’t follow the rules you could easily find yourself with a massive fine or worse, unable to cross the border into Europe ever again.
Now that you’re an expert on the Schengen zone, what are you waiting for? Europe is calling!