The Schengen Area. Ever heard of it? As much as your brain wants to associate it with Japan, it actually makes up most of Europe. And if you’ve thought about traveling across the pond for an extended period of time, it’s something you should be familiar with.
The Schengen Area comprises 26 member states that have officially ceased an operational border control between each country. Expanding its zone since, the Schengen Agreement occurred 33 years ago in Schengen, Luxembourg for the purposes of creating a sole jurisdiction for country-to-country travel, with a uniform visa approach. Currently, all but 6 of the EU countries are members, with the exceptions being Cyprus, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Ireland, and the UK. In addition, 4 non-EU participants, in Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland, also abide by its role.(http://biblio.ucv.ro/bib_web/bib_pdf/EU_books/0056.pdf)
“So what’s the big deal?” you might ask. Well, depending on your nationality, you might need an initial visa to be admitted into the Area, unless you’re from North America, which for these purposes, we’re going to assume that you are. So don’t worry about that commencing visa, North Americans! BUT, take heed, as a carefree jaunt between the many wonderful European-outposts may quantify into a very unfortunate situation down the road.
When we spent a month in England (picture in front of Buckingham Palace) & Scotland, we thought our time started over for Schengen (since the UK is not part of it), not realizing that it counts your time over 180 days; so our time in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland & Belgium all added to our total days in the Schengen Zone
Under Schengen policy, no outside traveler is to extend his or her stay over the allotted 90 days within a half-year period. In other words, you have a 3-month total stay over a 6-month duration inside any of the Schengen countries. We know, you were told there would be no math, but please bear with us…so, if you initially flew into France and remained for 2 weeks, visited England and Ireland for another 2 weeks, then went over and stayed in Italy for a month, you would be roughly halfway through your allotted time you could stay, as England and Ireland don’t count towards your total. You would then have about 45 days within the Area, spread over another 4 months, if you so chose. There are, though, a long-stay visa and residency permit options you could apply for in advance (see bottom link for more details).
When planning your European trip, especially if you think there’s a possibility of being there a while, be cognizant of the landscape and know exactly what countries are represented in the Zone (which are most) and neighboring states that don’t adhere to it. In addition to the UK and Ireland, another nearby country we visited was Morocco, which obviously isn’t part of Schengen, as it’s located in Africa. Thanks to our time spent in these states, we were able to sneak under our time allowed with a few days to spare (we unwisely weren’t aware of the Schengen duration-limitations until about halfway through our trip).
So what happens if I’m a few days over my 90-day limit?” you might later ask. Really, it depends on if the customs officer at the airport is having a bad day or not, or if in fact he notices the offense. If he doesn’t realize you’ve overstayed your welcome, well, you’re good to go. Likewise, if the officer sees it, but is in a good mood, he will likely convey the infraction to you and just warn you not to go over next time. However, even if only a few days, and ESPECIALLY if you’re a week or more past your 3-month limit, things could get rather serious. Contingent on the country, penalties could range into the hundreds-of-Euros. And even in some extreme cases, border control has the power to ban you for a year or longer from re-entering the Schengen Area.(http://biblio.ucv.ro/bib_web/bib_pdf/EU_books/0056.pdf)
Odds are you’re not going to spend near 3 months during your visit to Europe. Although it’s possible to spend a lifetime and not see even close to all that Europe has to offer, we get it, people get busy and can’t take off for that long. However, for some, like us, an opportunity arises where it’s possible to make the journey and spend a longer duration. And for these instances, have fun planning and experiencing your trip (it’ll be a blast!), BUT, do so with regard to your ever-running clock of time spent within the Schengen Area. Ignorance, at the immigration desk, can no longer be used as an excuse (not that it could before)!
When we left Malta for Ireland, we thought we were finished worrying about how many days we had to spare. It wasn’t until we were in Belfast that we realized we were wrong...we had already booked our cheap flight from Belfast to Reykjavik, but luckily, not our flight to the US yet. We hadn’t even thought that Iceland could be part of Schengen. So when planning our flight to the States, we had to make sure we left within our limit
Check out this site for more helpful information on the intricacies behind the Schengen Area and how it relates to your country of origin: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/