Part of my job this year is researching how my husband and I will accomplish the impossible. An extended-stay European trip. We aren’t students. We don’t have support [in visa form] from a company sponsoring our move. And, our illusions of substantiating enough passive income to achieve a residency visa didn’t prove fruitful. Some days my job is damn hard and our dream seems so unattainable. And I’ve had some oversights, or rather, miscalculations. But, mistakes are opportunities to learn and through my hours of scouring the internet I think I finally have some answers to our number one looming question: What is the Schengen Area?
No, seriously… What is the Schengen Area?
Frist, don’t assume if you’ve landed in any one of the 50 countries making up the European continent that you’re within Schengen. Ok – got it! So, you might ask yourself: but what if I’m within the European Union? Nope, doesn’t mean you’re in a designated Schengen country. The Schengen Agreement is some next level shit. It’s 26 European countries with special ‘passport-free’ border boundaries. In 1985, when the Agreement was signed in Schengen, Luxemburg, 5 countries re-introduced the concept of free movement. Today, the 26 countries, more or less, act as one in regards to internal border control. In most areas, you can enjoy unrestricted travel without much hassle – ie: you won’t have to go through immigration when moving between Schengen member countries but could be subject to random questioning from border control or local police.
But how does this actually affect me?
When you [a non-EU resident] travel to Europe, without possessing a magical visa, you have a strict timeline for your visit abroad. Different countries impose different rules for time restrictions. For example, the United Kingdom allows visitors to stay in country for 180 days, the Republic of Ireland: 90. These timeframes are continuous days to roam around. Once you leave, if only for 1 day, the clock resets.
Now, toss all this out the window if you’re visiting a Schengen country. If traveling to one or more of the 26 Schengen member countries, you have a total of 90 days out of 180. These days are not continuous and can be used whenever you want over 6 months. What is key here is knowing the 180 days is a rolling tally from the date of entry counting back. It’s not a 6 month period [Jan-Jun] and when that ends your 180 resets [Jul-Dec]. So, if I land in Italy on July 5th – what is the total number of days I was in the Schengen Region between Jan 5 thru Jul 5 [the previous 180 days]. If the answer is less than 90, I’ll have the remaining days to use. If I’ve already used my 90 days, the risk of being denied entry is high. This right here, almost exclusively, goes against what other articles have posted. #MindBlown
Please, please, please use this handy calculator to help you determine your current travel days remaining. Additionally, you should know, certain countries are required to obtain a Schengen visa to enter the area. Check THIS SITE for visa requirements and info. US citizens – we’re visa free for entry.
But what if I overstay my 90-day limit?
That depends. On the country. The border control officer. Time of day. Whether the B.O. had their coffee that morning. Does your breathe stink? Basically, there’s no hard and fast rule for what could happen if you overstay your 90-day Schengen allowance. I actually overstayed my trip to Italy – by 1 day – nothing happened, but it was only 1 day. If you’ve done any research on this topic, you’ll see that just about everyone has an opinion – ranging from the slightly lax to the enormously unforgiving. I’m not here to judge as I know full well the temptation of the Euro lifestyle. So, for those who have over-stayed their welcome, when you finally decide to leave the Schengen Area, I’ve outlined below a few possible consequences. With the exception of smooth sailing, I’m guessing you could have any number of multiple variations. You can assess what the risk is worth to you.
- Get Out of Jail Free. Nothing happens. No questions. No sideways glances. Didn’t even flip through the passport. You breezed through immigration.
- Luxury Tax. Plenty of sites will expand on horror stories of people being caught and slapped with a big ol’ fine. I’ve read anywhere from €600 – €1100. All things considered, to me, this is a better option than the three below :/
- Personal Record. I’m guessing a flag or notation could be entered into the Schengen Information System [SIS] and when you try to re-enter the original country where the record was introduced, or any other Schengen country, you could encounter questioning.
- Ban. However, the terms may be up to the border officer’s discretion. Internet searching suggest the average restriction time is between 1-3 years, but without any definitive examples – who knows! Also, it’s unclear if this would be another case of just being implemented in the country of exit or all of Schengen.
- Go to Jail. Do not Pass Go. And definitely don’t collect $200. Ok, not jail time but the biggest consequence – deportation. I’ll wager this is also the least common, and probably awarded to those who massively overstay their allowed time, but it’s still a possibility and should be considered. Deportation can create future travel problems to not only the country you were extradited from but others as well. Not to mention this could potentially cause you to be flagged as an ‘illegal immigrant’. Not cool.
Hints for successful & hassle free travel!
Let’s not end on a low note! There are ways to *legally* travel without having a visa. If you’re committed to being abroad for longer than 90 days make sure your planning is on point. I know it’s nice to keep a loose and free-spirit schedule but if you want to minimize your border issues it’s best to be a bit plany about when you should try and spend time outside the Schengen Area. Use the calendar referenced above to help outline your trip. Determine what countries you intend to visit and when – mix in non-Schengen every few months. I’ve read Cyprus is lovely <3 Bonus: you’ll get to check off a lot of bucket list destinations on this extended visit!
It’ll be most helpful, when leaving and entering Schengen, to have your next couple of flights/trains booked and ready to show immigration. They’ll want to see that your future time in Schengen territory won’t violate the 90/180. Also, we’ve found it might be necessary to validate your passive income [ie: what do you have in the bank]. We’ve had to pull this up on our phones when entering into the UK. Other questions to expect: what’s your profession? What’s your source of income while abroad? Do you own a home? Who’s staying there now? Do you know what Schengen is? Hey! You do now!!
Happy Grid Walking 🙂