What Is The Schengen Visa Rule?

Traveling abroad in Europe? Check out everything you need to know about the 'Schengen Visa' rule and the restrictions you need to know before you go!

Europe is a traveler’s dream for its historical cities, unique cultures, and beautiful scenery. The population density makes it easy and affordable to move around to different places and explore everything the continent has to offer. However, before going to Europe you must be aware of the Schengen Visa rules and restrictions that can affect your travel. 

There are 27 countries in Europe that share a tourist visa permitting a 90-day stay in the region, so travelers can’t stay in Europe indefinitely without leaving the region. While this does create a headache for travelers to manage and decide how to spend their limited time in these European countries, it allows Schengen citizens to maintain their economy and life without nomads roaming their world for too long. 

So if you were thinking you’ll hop over to Europe and stay 1 month in each country, you can’t. At least not with a little bit of planning and a thorough understanding of the Schengen Visa Rule. 

Various items related to travel including a passport, money, a camera and sunglasses laid out on the table

Table of Contents

Schengen Area

What Is It

The Schengen Area (pronounced: sheng-uhn) is comprised of 27 European countries (and counting), that share a border for tourist and travel purposes. The countries that have voluntarily joined Schengen have abolished their internal borders, allowing people to travel freely between the participating countries, for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

Schengen Countries

This Schengen Area is not to be confused with the European Union. The EU is a voluntary alliance focused on economic prosperity since much of European countries rely on trade with each other. 

So just because a country is in the European Continent, it doesn’t mean it is a part of the EU or Schengen area.

Countries that are outside the EU, but in Schengen include: Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.

Countries that are in the EU, but outside of Schengen include Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Ireland. However, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus have plans to join Schengen soon.

Schengen Countries
Austria
Belgium
Czechia
Croatia
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

Microstates

A big question is on Europe’s microstates (Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City). Since these countries can only be accessed from a Schengen country (France & Italy), a Schengen is needed.

If you don’t need a Schengen visa for Europe, then no visa is required for these microstates. Although they are not technically within the Schengen Area, they do count towards your 90 day limit.

Schengen Visa

Generally speaking, citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, European countries, and much of south and Central America do not need to obtain a Schengen Visa. There are some exclusions in certain circumstances, so please thoroughly check the Schengen Visa Info website to confirm your status.

*NOTE: After 2023, anyone who does not need a Schengen Visa will need to apply for ETIAS, which is a visa waiver.

For those who do need a Schengen Visa, the cost is 80 EUR and can take 10 working days for processing. There are specific requirements on top of the application including travel health insurance, flight itinerary for arrival and departure, proof of accommodation, proof of financial records, proof of employment, and travel itinerary.

If you’re traveling to the Schengen Area for any reason beyond tourism, you must apply for a visa specific to your purpose of travel. More information can be found on the Schengen Info website. 

90/180 Day Rule

As mentioned above, you are limited to 90 days in a 180-day rolling period. There are a few things to note about how the 90 days are counted. First, the days are only counted when you’re in a Schengen country, as soon as you leave, the days stop counting towards the 90 days (but continue counting towards 180 days).

 The 90-day part is pretty straightforward, but the 180-day period is where it gets a little confusing. The 180-day period is counted backward from the last date of exit from Schengen. 

Example

Let’s say you enter Spain (in Schengen) on January 1st, and you stay for 30 days until January 30th. From here you leave to Morocco, (outside Schengen), and stay in Northern Africa for 60 days. [You’ve used 30/90 days] = 60 days left

From here then you enter Italy on April 1st, and stay for 6 weeks (42 days) before departing to Albania (outside Schengen) on May 12th. [You’ve used 72 days/180 > 30 days in Spain + 42 days in Italy] = 18 days left

You spend 30 days in Albania, before going to Croatia (in Schengen) on June 12. You now have 48 days left that you can spend in Croatia before you reach 90 days. You stay in Croatia until July 29th when you’re on your 90th day.

But wait, wouldn’t that mean you overstayed?

No! Since it is a rolling 180-day period, 180 days from the last exit (July 29th) is January 31st. That means the 30 days you spent in Spain from January 1-30 are not counting towards your 90 day limit. 

How to Keep Track Of Time In Schengen?

The 90-day limit is a hard limit, there are no extensions or easy workarounds, so you need to know when you entered to know when you have to leave. The 90 days include the day you arrive and the day you depart.

My partner and I did a simple Google search and counted the weeks “90 days from (entry date)”… but this search didn’t include the first day!!

We had our whole plan to leave Europe on the 91st day, which needed to be changed. 

Schengen Calculator App

We then found the ‘Schengen App’ where you can enter your travel dates that are in the Schengen area, and it will tell you how many days are left in the area. This app allows you to save trip dates and shows you an accurate count to determine how many days are left so you can plan effectively! There are a few in the app store you can use!

Also check out this Short Stay Visa Calculator from the EU. 

Screenshot of Schengen Calendar app

How Can I Get Around The 90/180 Day Rule

The 90/180 rule is definitely a firm rule held up by the participating countries. While there are some reports that immigration doesn’t thoroughly check the entry dates on your passport and calculate the time in the region, it is definitely a no-go to overstay. 

Punishment for overstaying can include being sent to your home country or being banned from the Schengen area for a number of years (which can definitely add a big hurdle to travel plans). 

Travel to Non-Schengen Countries

Luckily there are a few countries in Europe and surrounding areas that you can travel to while you wait out the time months to return! Check out the Balkan Region, where you can explore Albania, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, and Kosovo. This area is affordable and incredibly beautiful.

Another option is heading north to the UK! England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland are free from Schengen restrictions (thanks to Brexit). 

Alternatively, check out Northern Africa like Morocco or Egypt, and the Middle East

Digital Nomad Visas

Many countries around the world are offering ‘Digital Nomad Visas’, also called ‘Resident Permits/Visas’, which allow you to reside in a country for an extended period (a few years) if you’re making an income.

Each country has different requirements for visas, which can be found on their government’s website.

This option requires a bit of planning further out and often must be applied for while in your home country.

Student Visa

It’s not uncommon for travelers to enroll in a European University to obtain a Student Visa. This allows the traveler to remain in Europe and travel freely for the duration of their visa (up to 3 years). While you can go to class and learn some things, you don’t have to! 

This option does take a bit of planning since it involved applying and acceptance to a foreign university, but it is definitely possible.

Working Holiday Visa

This visa allows a person under 30 to travel and work within a country for 1-2 years. This is a great option if you’re from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the US (although the US only has 2 options). You are able to move around Europe freely during this time, and have the chance to make some income! Work for pay can only be done in the country where the visa was provided.

It is also possible to get consecutive working holiday visas so you can stay in Europe for years!

Bilateral Agreements

Many of the Schengen Member Countries have a bilateral agreement in place which allow a traveler to stay in that country for up to 90 days, regardless of time spent in the Schengen Area. There are exclusions, so some additional research is required.

Countries with a bilateral agreement with the US include Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, and Spain. A full list of countries that have a bilateral agreement at all can be found here

This is the least common option, and traveler still face difficulties. Many of these bilateral agreements were implemented after WWII, and border agents may not be aware they even exist. It is crucial to verify your entry date into the country which you choose to exercise this, as well as documentation proving the agreements existstence. Remember, there are no border crossings where your passport will be stamped if you’re coming from another Schengen member.

Summary - WHAT IS THE SCHENGEN VISA RULE?

Europe is one of the most traveled regions of the world, for a great reason. It is easy to get around, there is so much culture and history to experience, and the ability to do it on any budget. However, as a tourist, the Schengen Rule is a common barrier to living your Europe travel dreams. This 27-country agreement limits tourism stays up to 90 days every 180 days, making you think outside the box to stay longer. 

There are ways to get around this, including alternative visa options, traveling to a country that is in a bilateral agreement with your home country, or simply optimizing your travel so you don’t overstay. No matter what option you go with, you’re sure to be in a beautiful place with opportunities to explore and learn on every corner.

What other destinations are on your bucket list? Find your Travel Inspiration here. 

Posted by Taylor Mallaber

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