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Photo: DoctorTac

Schengen visa rules may seriously screw up your plans to kick it in Europe for the long-term.

IN 1985, A HANDFUL of diplomats gathered in the small village of Schengen, Luxembourg, to destroy any plans I might one day have of WWOOFing in Europe for an entire year.

What they created was the Schengen Area, a conglomeration of 26 European states that act as one in terms of international travel. Under the Schengen Agreement, border controls between members are eliminated (if you have a Schengen visa –- we’ll get to that in a minute), while border controls with non-member states are strengthened.

The agreement also introduced a swanky information system shared between member states, along with a variety of other acquis. In short, it takes a lot less paperwork to hop around Europe now than it did in pre-Schengen days. However, you now have to play by Schengen rules or risk some pretty steep consequences.

The 26 Schengen countries are the following:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.

The countries on the list are a strange subset of EU countries, coupled with several (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein) which are not. The UK and Ireland are not on the list, having opted out during the Treaty of Amsterdam for complicated reasons having to do with their being large islands. Also missing are Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania, but they’re mandated to join the club by July, 2012 (Cyprus is putting up a fight because of concerns surrounding Turkish Cypriots).

So the Schengen visa will serve as a single visa for all of the listed 26 countries, with the addition of probably three more by July, 2012.

Who it affects

Short answer: if you’re a Canadian or US citizen, kinda. Long story: if you’re a passport-holding citizens of one (or more) of the following countries, you can travel anywhere in the Schengen Area visa-free, but only for visits of up to 90 days out of every 180:

Any EU state, the UK, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland (and all of the preceding countries’ member territories), in addition to any country on the following Schengen “white list”: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Vatican City, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, US, Uruguay, Venezuela.
Not on the list

If you’re not from one of the above visa-free countries, you need to apply for a Schengen visa to move freely about the Schengen Area for up to 90 days. This can be tricky, and it’s frustrating that international mobility is hindered simply by birthplace. It’s also not the focus of this particular article, but I encourage anyone in this boat to read How to travel on a third-world passport.

90 days is the limit

If you live in one of the visa-free countries or have a Schengen visa, you can now stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days out of every 180-day period.

This one’s the kicker, folks. The year-long-EuroTrip-ruiner. A common misconception is that tourists in Europe can simply duck into a non-Schengen country like England or Morocco for a day or two and then re-enter with a brand new 90 days to play around with. Not so. You’re allowed to stay in the Schengen Area for 3 months out of every half-year. That’s it. This effectively eradicates (or causes serious problems for) the “perpetual Euro tourist.”

If your goal is to travel for years at a time, you can spend 3 months in the Schengen Area, then a minimum of 3 months elsewhere (Morocco? England? Nepal?), and then re-enter the Schengen Area with the clock reset.

Visa overstays

And what if you overstay your 90 days? Experience dictates one of the following things will happen:

  1. Nothing. Many travelers report that during inter-Schengen border crossings, officials don’t add up the passport stamp dates, and they can get away with more than 90 days in half a year. Apparently this is more common at some borders than others, particularly those states who have joined the Schengen Area recently (like the Czech Republic). However, if officials do check, as they’re supposed to on entry and exit, and do increasingly often…
  2. You’ll get fined (anywhere from $500-$1000, varying by country), possibly deported, and possibly even banned from the Schengen Area for up to 3 years. Ouch.
Stays of more than 90 days

If you want to stay in the Schengen Area for longer than 90 days, you need to apply for a long-stay visa for a specific country.

If you apply for and obtain a long-stay visa for a particular Schengen Area country, you can stay in that country without eating into your 90-day Schengen time. This option’s viability depends entirely on the nature of your work/travel in the specific country.

Most long-stay visas require work permits or residence permits, which often in turn require concrete offers of employment or proof of permanent housing. This makes it difficult to get a long-stay visa if you’re a tourist, WWOOFer, or other itinerant job-seeker. Further reading: How to get an EU work permit.

Long-stay visas have myriad application requirements, varying by type of visa and by country of issue. Many countries, like Norway, allow applications for long-stay visas while you’re already in the country on a 90-day visa; others, like Italy, require that you apply from your home country. Be sure to check how long application processing takes and apply long before it’s critical.

There are many types of long-stay visas. Student visas are fairly standard for those enrolled at a foreign university. Others range dramatically, from Germany’s general employment visa to Norway’s seasonal worker visa to Spain’s non-lucrative visa for really wealthy people. Search in online forums for specific country and specific visa requirements that cater to your situation.


Find out if you need a Schengen visa to move about the Schengen Area. If you do, get one. If you don’t, you’re all set.

Roam freely in all Schengen Area states for 90 days out of any 180-day period.

If you need or want to stay longer in one Schengen country, do your research and apply for a long-term visa.

Border Crossing Guides


About The Author

Patrick Madden

Patrick hails from Western Massachusetts, where he acquired a love of the outdoors, a penchant for leaf peeping, and a burning desire to see a little more of the world. He's currently enrolled at Brown University in RI, where he's an English major with an honors in nonfiction writing. Starting in June, he'll be taking a mid-college gap year to WWOOF in Norway and Nepal, teach English, and write about his meanderings. He tweets as @maddenmemos, and blogs regularly.

  • EHA

    Interesting article Patrick. This was a hot topic among my expat friends who worked in Copenhagen for a year, but wanted to travel after their contract ended. Such a buzzkill that you have to be out for 90 days before you can come back.

    However, I traveled to Israel for 30 days and then flew back through Copenhagen for a night before flying home to the states. I was a nervous wreck, but nobody looked twice at my passport and I waltzed straight back into Schengen. I guess it really does depend on the country (and maybe the mood that your border agent is in that day!)

  • Peter Heck

    Great info Patrick.  We had to be very strategic because of the Schengen, but it certainly does limit you.  Fortunately Croatia, UK and Ireland provided us reprieve.   I’ve heard Germany and the UK are the strictest areas which will actually analyze your passport and count your days in the Schengen.

  • Sophievod

    This is a good topic to bring up.  I lived in/traveled in the Schengen for 9 months out of a year without a visa (first 3 1/2 in Poland/Eastern Europe/Italy, then I went to East Africa for 3 months, then went back to Poland for 6.)  Since I was so close to Ukraine, which is outside the Schengen, I would go on border runs, as you mentioned.  Usually I stayed in L’viv for a week or more, but once I took the night bus in, and then out the following night.  I never had a problem doing this in Poland, and knew several other Americans who went on border runs to stay “safe” in the Schengen.  Although, that’s not to say I didn’t get nervous when I was sitting by myself on the bus at the border at 3am… and I did occasionally see people getting thrown off, but that’s just part of the excitment!

    • Dan

      …Except he mentioned that short border runs DO NOT renew your 90 day visa. In fact, border runs like you describe do nothing more than give you an opportunity to get deported.

  • Kirsten Alana

    So glad you wrote this – just as I am gearing up for more Europe travel and worried about limits. Good to have it all laid out so plainly in this article and the others linked to. Yet another reason I love Matador!

  • Dan

    Good run down of the system except for one fairly important thing–  In terms of inter-Schengen border crossings, there are no officials, no passport stamps, no customs, nothing like that.  It’s like a domestic flight.  The agreement is to have NO border controls between the Schengen countries, remember?  As a two year wanderer of the Schengen countries I would say go ahead and go through with your plans to WWOOF around.. just don’t try to exit and reenter within that time.

  • Craig

    I think you need to correct New Zealand’s status. Kiwis can still spend 90 days in each Schengen country irregardless of how long they’ve spent in the zone.

  • BrokenSun

    Goof point, but 90 days seems positively generous compared to the limits on a 30 day, non-extendable tourist visa for the US, which has the added sting of the ESTA charge.

  • Megan

    I always liked the idea of going to places like Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria etc etc for 3 months inbetween Schengen travel. I am a NZ citizen so technically I can do as Craig mentioned below, but I’ve read someplaces that some border control officers don’t know of this arrangement and it can cause confusion…

  • Doug Walsh

    Dan, thanks for the clarification. We’ve been planning a lengthy bike tour and expected a total of five to six months in the Schengen countries, with just a few weeks in Morocco in between. Wondering if this is now impossible for us. Hmmm….

    • Dan

      No problem.  Do your few weeks in Morocco before your 90 days has elapsed and you’re fine.

  • Niko

    One suggestion is to go to Ukraine to wait for your 90 days to elapse before you return to the Schengen zone. It is cheap, full of attractive women and full of good coffee and booze so that you can get your Bryson/Hemingway on .

    • theblondegypsy

       Tried and true. Great suggestion!

  • Guest

    I think we need another article … How to piss off a European.

  • Lala

    Actually, if you’re from any of these countries (”
    Any EU state, the UK, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland (and all of the preceding countries’ member territories), in addition to any country on the following Schengen “white list””) you can travel forever and ever in Schengen, not just 90 days in 180. :)

    • Jons smith

      Schengen Visa has made traveling between its 25 member countries (22 European
      Union states and 3 non-EU members) much
      easier and less bureaucratic. Traveling on a
      Schengen Visa means
      that the visa holder can travel to any (or all) member countries using one
      single visa, thus avoiding the hassle and expense of obtaining individual visas
      for each country. This is particularly beneficial for persons who wish to visit
      several European countries on the same trip.
      The Schengen visa is a “visitor visa”. It is issued to citizens of countries who
      are required to obtain a visa before entering Europe.

      daytona beach accommodation

  • Alli

    Great article!  Sums up all the research we’ve been doing in prep for a Europe trip – as Aussies, we came to the same conclusion to get working tourist visas for a Schengen country (or 2).  We’ve found the criteria aren’t as strict as suggested in this article, but the proof will be in the doing…

    From Aussie friends who’ve navigated this issue -  Greek authorities are really strict.  Greece is on the very edge of the Schengen area at the moment, and their border officers always check if you’ve overstayed.  They have no hesitation in fining you the maximum amount (or demanding more money in order to overstay or not get banned from returning). Just a heads up.

  • Stacey Kuyf

    Really informative article thanks. Kinda ruins my plans for next year though!

  • We

    People should be able to travel and stay where they want for as how long as they want, if they can afford it. No one should be allowed to make rules that deprive people of their natural rights.

  • George O’Malley

    Help me with this pleaseI got my visa on October 31, 2011 and spent in Schengen area from 1 Nov 2011-7 Jan 2012 (68 days).On April 10, 2012 (after 94 days being out) I bought my ticket to go to Schengen zone again to get married. For marriage I need time, I mean it’s not to do in a few days. So, my question is, can I start a new 90 days from 10 April, till I finish with all matrimonial documentations? If not, can i extend my time there to stay more till I finish?Thanks for answering.

  • Jessica Gouws-Dunajski

    I’m travelling from London to Croatia via coach. I have applied for a Croatian visa but I’m not sure if I need a schengen. Help please! Thanks in advance.

  • Monica Padua

    Good to know!

  • Kyle Bob

    I don’t think this is true. I lived in the Schengen zone for a couple years and just went to Ukraine every 90 days for a couple days and then came back. This is what I was told to do by immigration and never thought twice about it.

  • Rhonda Louise

    I am a US citizen and just finished planning a complicated trip with my UK boyfriend. We were hoping to spend as much time together as possible to get to know each other better. I just found out about the “white countries” and now I am confused. After spending the rest of the 90 days of the 180 days in the states, the plan was to go to mexico or canad for awhile and then come back to the states to stay 90 days in the new 180 day period. but what I have read says to travel to canada or mexico from the states you need to be within the 90 days. They count canada and mexico as an extension of the us visa. How can you get around this? Do you have to enter canada or mexico from the UK? Do we have to fly back there and then come into the states? This is really confusing. Any help would be appreciated. thanks

  • Anonymous

    I have been granted a tourist visa and have been in Norway for 3months just this year. I am planning to comeback very soon..I am just wondering how long will it take me before I can re-apply for visa again? Hope you can help..thanks!

  • Bradley Graham

    Hello maybe you can help me because I haven’t gotten a straight answer yet!

    I have been working in Portugal for 13 months with a visa and it expires October 31st. Am I allowed to leave the Schengen area for like a week and come back in on my passport? Cause you mentioned that it doesn’t eat up your 90 days in 90 days out rule if you are on a visa and since it has been about 9 months since I entered on my passport I should be able to enter as a tourist again correct? Any information will do.


  • Nica

    Where did you get this information?

  • Ferko Mrkvicka

    Haha, I do feel sorry for US and Canadian travellers who now cannot spend an entire year in Europe, but at the same time, Europeans were never able to do the same in the North America! Do I (as a Schengen-country citizen) have the right to stay for a year in the US or Canada? No. IIRC, the maximum visa-free stay in the US is also 90 days, non-extendable and you have to pay for the ESTA. So? If the US extended the maximum visa-free period for Schengen citizen to a year, I can imagine the Schengen countries would grant the same privileges to US citizens. :) Anyway, the Schengen Area was created so that we (its citizens) can reap its fruit, such as no queues at internal borders and the right to cross the borders everywhere, not just at official border crossings. (This is especially useful if you’re hiking in a mountain range that forms a border between two Schengen countries.)

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