What is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Agreement in 1985 began the era of borderless travel in Europe. If you’re interested in the full details of the treaty, feel free to read the attached link. I will mainly focus on what this means for those traveling to the area.
The Schengen area currently consists of 26 countries that have agreed to remove internal border checks.This allows you to travel freely between these countries visa free. Think of it like traveling between states in the USA.
The current Schengen countries (as of 2017):
- Czech Republic
Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City are not Schengen members, but do share open borders with the area.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are currently working towards entering the Schengen Area.
The United Kingdom and Ireland have opted not to join, preferring to maintain their own borders. As most of you are aware, the UK has voted to leave the European Union altogether.
How long can you stay in the Schengen Area?
Anyone from countries or territories listed under Annex II can enter the Schengen Area (for travel or business) visa free. You are allowed a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period. Basically 3 months in any 6 month period.
It’s actually really nice to be able to drive, bus and train around without having to pass through border control. For any European travel under 3 months, this is perfect. Though, for extended trips (like mine) this can be quite limiting. For example, in Central America or Southeast Asia (common backpacker destinations) you can stay weeks or months in each country before you have to move on.
This is the main reason for my absence from blogging. Since my time is limited, I decided I’d rather fill each day exploring new cultures, food and sights. However, there are a few ways you can extend your time in Europe.
How to stay in Europe for more than 90 days
Unfortunately, there is no application or any other way to extend the 90 day Schengen stay as a tourist. You can of course apply for working or student visas to individual countries in Europe, although that is a bit much when you’re just trying to travel as a tourist.
Option 1 – Mix in non-Schengen countries
Yes, the 90 days is a strict limit. However, the days do not have to be consecutive days. You can leave the Schengen Area and your “clock” stops. Meaning you can spend 20 days in the Schengen Area, leave the zone for a few weeks and then return with 70 days still remaining. This is why I am now writing to you, I left the Schengen Area when I moved over to Croatia. I can now take time to write and upload photos without having to use up a day in the Schengen Area.
As I mentioned above, four countries have yet to officially join Schengen and UK/Ireland have opted out. There are also quite a few other European countries with no immediate plans to join the Schengen Area:
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
Mix in any of the non-Schengen countries with your itinerary and you can stay longer than 90 days in the area. I should also mention Turkey, which is another popular destination for those trying to extend their stay.
I started this trip with 3 weeks in England (non-Schengen), accrued 48 days in Schengen countries and am now in Croatia (non-Schengen).
Option 2 – Travel non-Schengen countries until you can return
With this option you can use up your 90 days consecutively and then spend 90 days outside of the Schengen until you are able to return and start over. As mentioned above, you have quite a lot of places to wait out your return. Bonus being that most of these places are cheaper than other European countries and still have a lot to offer.
How does it work exactly?
It’s quite easy, really (if your country is listed under Annex II of course). The day you arrive in any Schengen country you will receive a stamp in your passport with the date. That date begins your 90 day clock. When you leave the Schengen Area into a non-Schengen country you will receive an exit stamp with the date. This halts your clock until you return to the area. Once you return, you will receive another stamp, thus resuming your 90 day clock.