I should make it very clear from the start that, while everyone is free to read this, I am only writing this for Americans. Not because I don’t like anyone else – I love you all – but because we’re American travelers and expats, and every country’s situation is different.
EU citizens are blessed with a ridiculous freedom of movement, as are New Zealanders, because, who doesn’t love a Kiwi? Canadians have a case similar to Americans, but a little more complex due to immigration spats and the like with countries such as the Czech Republic. Australians have a different set of rules, as do South Africans and a host of other nations. We are American, we have zero experience traveling as [enter non-U.S. citizenship status here], and therefore haven’t really had any need to know how long we can stay in [whatever country] as [citizen of a country that is not America]. Cool? Cool.
In addition, I will not be talking about long-stay visas, student visas, residency permits, visa runs, or dual-passport shenanigans. If you want a real visa or permit, this information can be found on most countries’ websites. If you want to get into trickery or overstays, this isn’t the place, either. (Maybe another time.) There are always caveats, but that’s not what this post is about.
This must also be stated: I am only writing this because, during our travels and my research, I’ve come across way too many inaccurate blog posts, travel guides, out of date information, scaredy cats, worrywarts, angry people with no idea what they’re jabbering on about, and whatever else you can think of. I got sick of reading a bunch of “information,” searching Google, and coming up with nothing of value; sitting in my chair, staring at my TouchPad with those glazed-over computer eyes, wondering why on Earth it could possibly be so difficult to find solid information about a part of the world that Americans and everyone else just love to visit. (“Oh My God, Venice is totally romantic!” I assure you, it’s not really that romantic. Not in high season, anyway.)
That said, if any of this information is wrong – I urge you to let me know. You can leave a comment or contact us through this site, on Facebook, and on Twitter. I am no authority! I cannot state that with any more emphasis. I just want to write about what I’ve found after reading some official guidelines, scratching my head at blog posts, and burning a variety of guidebooks while screaming in tongues at the immigration and visa gods. Right. Let’s get it on…
In case you haven’t noticed, most of Europe is now the European Union. And within – but not entirely within, and not entirely the same – lays the Schengen Area. The brilliant minds of the EU decided that they should have controls similar to what you’d find in the U.S. or Canada or wherever, and that each country should more or less operate as a state when it comes to border control. But, not everyone is down for the cause, and some countries that aren’t part of the EU are, in fact, down for the cause. This “cause” created an area where people can move freely across borders, without border control. This “cause” is called the Schengen Agreement, which created the Schengen Area.
So, if you fly from Amsterdam to Berlin, for example, there’s not really any passport control. No required long lines or customs checks or any of that. In early 2011, we flew from Chicago to Berlin, with a stop in Amsterdam. We did have to go through control when we arrived in Amsterdam, since our flight came from a non-Schengen area. But, on the flight from AMS to TXL (R.I.P. in about a month), there was no passport control, no customs, none of that. We simply walked off the airplane, grabbed our bags (and the dog), and caught a taxi. Same thing you would do if you were flying from Chicago to Dallas, or whatever.
And the same goes for driving. No more checkpoints at national borders, no more men in funny uniforms asking why on Earth a suspect-looking American is driving with two suspect-looking Germans into the Czech Republic. (Who, me?)
All seems pretty cool, right? Definitely not.
In an effort to have reciprocal agreements with non-Schengen countries, such as the U.S., certain rules were passed to help ease the pain of traveling overseas for EU citizens. You know, because they have it so bad and all. One of these rules is what I call the Evil Horrible Make Me So Angry Wanna Throw Things Like A Child Rule. Officially or unofficially, it’s called the 90-day Rule. It’s simple. Wait, not really. It’s totally not that simple.
The rule is this: Within the Schengen Area (and some cooperating countries), people from what are called Annex II nations can travel for 90 days within a 180-day period. This means that within a six-month period, Joe America can spend 90 days within this area. Not within one country. Within the entire area.
Yeah, that’s right. I’m not sure how old some of you are, but I gloriously remember the days when you could travel all around Europe, with 90 days to blow in each country. Folks who are spirited by travel and want to spend a summer or a year stomping around Europe could do just that. The freedom was amazing. Who cares about border checks, and passport controllers on trains, and the occasionally brutal line at the airport? You’ve got all the time in the world! Woo-hoo! 90 days per country! Hell yeah!
Not anymore, brother/sister. You can thank the Schengen Agreement for that.
I am sorry if you came here looking for the answers that you really want. Hell, answers that I really want! They don’t exist, because the Schengen Agreement has screwed you out of most of Europe for three months of every six-month period. And because the member states and agreements keep changing, security of knowing where you can travel and for how long also keeps changing. A blog post from five years ago will be invariably irrelevant today. This post might be irrelevant the day after I post it. That’s how often little changes are made that decide where we can go, but more importantly, for how long.
Before I get into where you can go and can’t go within that 90-day period, I want to say that the benefit of this is that it actually might make you go off the beaten path a bit. Maybe you should visit a country that’s not part of this agreement. In case the Travel Channel or your parents’ European romanticizing or some random magazine or that one travel forum hasn’t informed you as of yet: There are some really, really awesome places in this world. A ton of them. And guess what? Most of them are not part of the Schengen Agreement. Some are even in Europe, most are not, but whatever: If you want to be location independent, or travel for a long period of time, think outside the box! You don’t have to spend all your time in these countries. They’re all wonderful places (and we live in one of them), but if the 90-day Rule is going to get slapped on you, why not live a little? (I still think the rule sucks. I’m just sayin’…)
For this exercise, I’m calling the 90-day rule the 90/180 rule. It’s easier on me. Below is a list of the countries that are part of this agreement. Some are in the EU, some are in the Schengen Area, some are in neither but have special agreements, and some are very confusing. You might argue that ‘X’ country is in the EU, so it must be Schengen! Not even close. Or that some other country isn’t in the EU, so it can’t be Schengen! Wrong again.
This is not a list of Schengen Area countries. It is not a list of EU countries. It is not a list intended for anyone but Americans, because we’re American; and as previously stated, most other countries have similar but sometimes different arrangements.
90/180 Rule: Countries in which you can spend 90 out of every 180 days. No, you cannot spend 90 days in each country. No, you cannot leave after 90 days and come back two days later. Within a 180-day period, you are allowed 90 days of travel through the entire area. You can go out and come back in, but you only have 90 days total. Total!
That is correct. Those are the countries in which you can play for a total of 90 days. Got it? Again, you cannot stay for 90 days, leave for a week, and come back. 90 for every 180. That’s what you get.
Countries marked with an asterisk (*) are not part of the Schengen Area and/or the EU, but have reciprocal agreements and are more or less part of the area. Don’t bother sneaking away to San Marino for 90 days and popping back up in Italy on the 91st day. That won’t slide. I’m not even sure you could do anything in San Marino for 90 days, anyhow.
Below are the other European countries and how they all play into this. The countries below are not part of the area, and they do not play into the 90/180 rule. The countries below have their own guidelines, rules, whatever, for tourists and visas. Each country has its own accord, and has nothing to do with the Schengen Area rules or any other rules. Got it? (Again, if you know otherwise, feel free to correct me.)
United Kingdom: Six months. Yes, you get six months here as a tourist. I’ve been to the UK multiple times, and I never realized that before. I guess it’s a good thing it’s so expensive there; otherwise, you might find me writing this from the Scottish Highlands or some balcony in Edinburgh. I have heard rumors and read anecdotes about partial side deals the UK has with Schengen. However, from everything I’ve read, you can indeed go to the UK after Schengen. Just remember that you can’t go back into the Schengen Area until after a period of 90 days has passed!
Ireland: 90 days. That’s what you get, and I’m not so sure how long you have to be out before re-entry. I’m not sure how the 90 days you get in Ireland plays with the 90/180 in Schengen. I haven’t found any reliable information connecting the two. I have a sneaking suspicion that they do play with each other, which is bad for you and me.
Below are the remaining European countries. Some of these countries were supposed to become part of the Schengen Area this year. However, every country that was supposed to has had their dates pushed back. That’s good news for you and me. I will say that you should keep an eye on each country you plan to visit, though, as things change all the time. Especially keep an eye on Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania, as they are the closest to joining the dreaded Schengen Area team.
What I do know is that the 90 days you get there has nothing to do with the 90/180 you get for Schengen countries. The aforementioned three nations have their own 90/180 policy that applies only, specifically, to each of the three countries alone. Got it?
Again, everything in this blog post is for U.S. citizens. Some visas cost money, most are free. Because most of the countries on the list here lack a substantial fee, I haven’t bothered noting which is which. E.g. Albania is €1 for the first 60 days. Come on, son. That counts as free in my book.
90 days: The below countries give you 90 days each. Enjoy!
Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Turkey (€15), Ukraine.
Some of these can be extended, some cannot. I have either not done the necessary research, am not confident in my answers, or have received conflicting reports for many of them. If you have a specific country in mind, I’d suggest doing some more reading. If you have more (verified) information, feel free to pass it my way.
Note: I’ve left out the farther eastern European countries for simplicity’s sake. Great people, great places. However, some of these countries are having “issues,” especially in the Caucuses, and it can be crazy tricky to get in. This includes things like travel restrictions, corruption, varying visa costs, varying allowed lengths of stay, where and when you can get your visas, possible required registration, and a whole bunch of other super-fun things like the occasional war.
As you can see (what am I writing here, a term paper?), the whole complicated scenario of the European Union, Schengen Agreement, and the various rules and regulations that weave their way inside and out within the confines of the continent can create utter chaos, havoc, but mostly confusion for U.S. citizen travelers and citizens of many other nations. I often bang my fist with furious anger about how all of this works. (And I’m a long-term residency holder in a Schengen and EU country!) Then I’ll become more frustrated when I see that ‘X’ nation is going to become part of the Schengen Area. And then I’ll read a month later that it was pushed back or what have you.
I certainly understand how awesome freedom of movement is for EU and/or Schengen citizens. I would never want to take that away from any of them, and I need to make that undeniably clear. However, the other policies that were dreamed up for non-European countries can easily cause madness among the most sane of us (I’m not part of that), and doesn’t really make it any easier for travel junkies to roam the world that belongs to all of us.
I have no solution to all of this, but I hope that anyone reading this here blog post has a better understanding of the chaotic mess that comes into play when you’re a card-carrying member of the ol’ U.S.A. I also reiterate this: If you have updates that come in, or information to correct, or things to clarify, please post them in the comments or contact us directly. And again, I repeat myself by saying that these crazy 90/180-day rules should sometimes be looked on with a smile, for they should force you to go to places you’ve never been, see wonderful countries you have been lied to about your entire life, and learn more about the great cultures that exist outside of that historically romantic idea of visiting Europe. Enjoy the ride, we’ll soon be off to [enter non-90/180 Schengen country here]!