Navigating European Visa Restrictions to Stay for a Year
Updated: Dec 31, 2019
Once we told our friends and family that we were going to move to Europe for an entire year, their first reactions varied quite a bit...
“That’s so cool!”
“Why would you want to leave?”
“When can I visit you guys?”
“How are you going to be able to spend the year in Europe without a work visa?”
For those interested in the details, keep reading...
Our original plan was to move to a single European country for a year with work visas but when our employers (both global companies) seemed less than keen on the idea, we decided instead to make it the trip of a lifetime, quit our jobs, and visit more countries.
It all boils down to one thing: the Schengen Area, which consists of European countries who have adopted a uniform visa policy to allow free passage for people between their shared borders.
As a U.S. citizen, you are able to enter a Schengen Area country (with your U.S. passport) and stay on a “tourism visa” for up to 90 days out of 180 days.
Three months without any additional hoops to jump through? Yes please!
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But not so fast…what about the rest of the year.
90 out of 180 days means you can only stay in a Schengen Area country for 3 out of every 6 months. What do we do with the rest of the trip?
We can stay in a non-Schengen Area country! Wooohoooo!
Wait...which ones are those?
European Non-Schengen Countries
The European countries that are not part of the Schengen zone are...
Bosnia & Herzegovina
The United Kingdom
Of the non-Schengen Area countries, the ones that intrigued us the most were...
The UK - they really do enjoy doing their own thing, eh? We’ll have to see how Brexit shakes out.
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Ireland - we love Ireland and definitely want to visit again
Croatia - we’ve heard it’s absolutely beautiful and less expensive than more common European destinations...count us in!
Below is a sample itinerary illustrating how to plan your trip taking into account the Schengen restrictions:
1st three months: You stay in, let’s say...Ireland, which is non-Schengen Area country. As a U.S. citizen you can stay in Ireland for 90 days without any paperwork.
2nd three months: You have yet to spend any time in the Schengen zone yet so you have your pick of any European country!. Let’s pick Switzerland. (You can totally snowboard down the Matterhorn, right??)
3rd three months: Since you were in Switzerland (Schengen) for 90 days, you need to leave the Schengen Area for the next 90 days. Why not head to Croatia? They also allow U.S. citizens to stay for up to 90 days without any additional paperwork.
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4th three months: At this point, you are able to go back into a Schengen Area country for another 90 days! Woop. Let's say you pick France, because who doesn’t love French culture?
CONGRATULATIONS! You've successfully navigated the Schengen travel restrictions.
A Rolling 180 Day Period
One thing that did not come up in our initial research but that we have since learned is that "90 out of 180 days" is a rolling period.
We originally thought that if we "started the clock" on the first 180-day Schengen counter, we could begin another period immediately following (essentially spending a consecutive 180 days in the Schengen Zone but not more than 180 days of the full 365 days in the year. This is where we were wrong.
Luckily there's this handy calculator to help us all out. You simply enter your travel dates and then choose an "as of" date to evaluate your remaining Schengen Zone days.
Once our year traveling Europe is over, our plan is to head back to the states. However, if you wanted to you could easily repeat these steps over and over again.
Notice that if you plan to explore countries outside of Europe, you will likely not have to be as strategic. You can stay in a Schengen Area country for 90 days, leave Europe altogether for 90 days, and then you are eligible to re-enter the Schengen Area again if you’d like.
We actually think it’s fortunate that we’re required to bounce around a bit. This way we will probably see places we never would have otherwise (and that’s kinda the point, isn’t it?).
Eddie & Megan
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