The Schengen Visa and how long you can travel visa free in Europe

The Schengen Visa and how long you can travel visa free in Europe
Mykonos, Greece
The windmills at Mykonos, Greece

How Long can you travel in Europe or the Schengen zone visa Free?

What is a Schengen Visa?  Many people have asked after hearing about our application to remain in Italy for a period beyond the allowed 90 day stay.  Most had never heard of Schengen before and commented ‘how would they know’, ‘maybe you are being too diligent at following the rules’, ‘I never heard of that before’ and asked ‘what could happen if you stayed longer’?  Well, big brother knows all and you don’t want to mess around, here’s why;

The Schengen Agreement now covers most of Europe and allows for borderless travel between it’s member countries for travel durations of up to 90 days within a 180-day period.   Residents can travel as if it were one big country, non-residents of qualifying countries can do the same without a visa.  Canadians, Americans and Australians qualify and have no need to apply for a visa as long as you remain no longer than the 90 days.  Simply, your passport will be stamped on entry and allows you to travel freely.  The rules are the same for all member countries, beyond the 90 days you’d have to apply for special visas particular to that country, check their embassy websites for options and requirements.  If you are from a country other than Canada, the US or Australia then check to see if you need to apply for a Schengen Visa.  You can check at this site;

The travel does not have to be continuous, the 90 days are cumulative within the 180-day period so you can come and go or remain for consecutive days up to 90.  On day 181 it resets for another 90 days within 180.  For example; we are starting our year abroad in Scotland as the UK are not members of Schengen.  We’ll spend about 5 weeks in Scotland, a few in Ireland and then our Schengen entry will begin in Italy.  We knew we wanted to be in Venice for Carnivale so we planned our entry and exit around it, we’ll get out on the 90th day which is cutting it a little close in hind sight.  We’ll then leave the Schengen zone and spend some time in Schengen exile in either Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Scotland, Ireland, England…see below for a list of non-Schengen countries.

What happens if you stay longer than 90 days;

When you enter the Schengen zone your passport will be stamped and when you go to exit they’ll check that entry date.  If you are over the allowed 90 days you can be fined, detained, deported and your passport could be stamped banning you from re-entering the Schengen zone for 1-5 years.  You just don’t want to mess around; I wouldn’t panic if you end up over a day or two but longer than that you’re playing Russian roulette.  Another way you can be checked is randomly by a police officer or say you were in a traffic accident, you will have to show your passport and prove your identity.  They will check the entry dates, if you’re over you’ll be deported with all the fun above.

Ephesus, Turkey
The Library, Ephesus, Turkey

Which Countries are part of the Schengen?

The Schengen agreement was first signed in Schengen, Luxemburg on June, 1985 and has grown to include its current members with a few more countries due to join shortly.  It is comprised of most of Europe, which happens to include most of the EU countries but not all and not including the UK.  These are the current member countries;

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.

Leaning Tower, Pisa, Italy
The Leaning Tower at Pisa

These are the Non-Member Countries, that will require showing your passport at entry and will have their own visa requirements (depending on your citizenship).  Almost all allow for 90 day stays without a special visa (again depending on your citizenship), however Belarus does require a visa which you can’t get at the borders so apply ahead.

Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, England, Ireland, Moldova, Romania, Scotland, Serbia,  


Ways to stay beyond the 90 days;

There are a few ways to remain longer than the 90 days under certain circumstances but the process can be complicated.  As I talked about it in my previous post on ‘A year in Italy’ don’t even bother applying as a tourist, it is virtually impossible.  Beyond the 90 days allowed by the Schengen you can apply through each countries Embassy or Consulate for various other visas particular to that country, along with its rules and regulations.  You will be expected to apply at the country where you will spend most of your time and you must enter and exit from the country whom issued the visa.  You will have to make an appointment for a mandatory, physical meeting at the nearest Embassy/Consulate which often requires a plane trip somewhere.  You’ll need a plethora of information and possibly cash, you’ll need to fill out some forms and submit to finger printing.  Here is a list of requirements or check with the Embassy/Consular website:

If you’re under the age of 30 and in some circumstances 35, you have the luxury of applying for a working holiday visa. Apparently they are easy to get depending on your citizenship but again, check with that embassy.

Most countries allow for student visas.  You can be any age but will have to prove that you are enrolled in an approved program, at an accredited school for the entire year or duration of your stay.  You will have to prove payment and get an affidavit letter from the school or university.  We are going to an accredited university to study the Italian language for the month of January, if we were staying the whole year we could get a one-year visa.

Germany has an artists visa, Italy has a special visa if you buy a retirement home and can prove you won’t be working, there are cultural exchange visas, visas for studying your family history or for long term visits with relatives….just check the Consular websites for the country you want to apply to.

The Schengen agreement makes traveling throughout Europe much easier with the downfall of it’s limitations.  It’s being challenged though with Europe facing the current refugee crisis, increased terrorism and now Brexit which puts pressure on the open border policies.  The world is a change’in, as North Americans we currently enjoy extensive travel privileges that much of the worlds citizens don’t have.  Hopefully these benefits will continue, it’s a call to travel that we can’t take for granted.


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