Visa rules for Europe within the Schengen Area (My European Travel Mistakes)
Ok, if you want to learn how to screw something up as a traveler, just drop on by and ask, as I’ve probably royally screwed it up somehow or at some point. It appears I love learning every lesson in life the hard way for some reason. You would think I’ve run out of lessons, but sure enough, I have not, let’s all learn from my European Travel Mistake. In 2022, I entered Europe a month before knowing European Visa rules or Schengen Visa, after I was supposed to due to catching COVID in Aruba (that was another amazing experience).
I was supposed to leave 3 days after I got home from Aruba, but lucky me, I sat too close to another couple at the pool, and bam, 2 COVID shots later, and still, winner, winner chicken dinner, I caught it. I was overjoyed. I arrived back stateside as there were no longer testing rules at that time, but there were rules to get into Europe.
So, I did what I was supposed to do and got the appropriate test within the window of flying into Europe, and I came out pregnant. LOL. Yep, that test had 2 lines, and I’m not sure if it was a boy or a girl, a puppy, or a frog, but it made me sick as a dog.
Fast forward just a bit. I had to cancel my plane ticket to Europe for at least 14 days. Y’all remember the rules. I hadn’t taken the travel insurance out, as I thought my credit card covered travel insurance (it does- kind of—but, and here’s the HUGE BUT), it only covers you if you have booked a round-trip ticket.
I solo travel all the time, and my intention was to hop from country to country until I got fed up with traveling. With that being said, I usually do not book round-trip tickets. So, not only did I lose out on that ticket, but my Thailand ticket was also out of Europe within that month. I ended up losing the fare from that ticket, too. Can it get any better?
Yep, oh, it sure does. Next up, I rebooked the flight on a European visa, but at least this time, I changed it up a bit and started in Madrid instead. It was the cheapest ticket to Europe I could find. I thought, well, I guess Thailand wasn’t supposed to happen (yet), so let me bounce around Europe for a while, and then I’ll go.
So here I go on my merry way, thinking I have my US passport and I have 30 days free in each country, so to speak. I hadn’t planned on staying in any country longer than a week or two, so I thought that I’d be perfectly fine. Once again—Soooo not fine.
In Europe, there are 27 countries that are part of this thing called the Schengen Area. Heck, I can’t pronounce it correctly most of the time, who even knew this was a real thing? Well, if you studied really hard in geography in the last few years, this may have been something that would roll off your tongue. Not really one to care about foreign politics, it wasn’t something I paid much attention to in the last 20 years.
Well, a European visa has its own set of rules that are unlike those in Thailand, where you can stay for 30 or 60 days, bounce out of the country, and come back in, and your clock resets. This is so not the case in Europe.
The Schengen agreement allows you to travel from country to country “domestically” as we do with states here at home. No customs/immigration issues, just like home, so I treated it like home in the States. If you bounce from “state to state” or “country to country,” all is good.
I was also in and out of the UK a few times thinking that I really was totally fine as I’d left the area entirely. Nope, nope, nope.
So, to help you understand the rule for US citizens from the U.S. State Department website:
“Spend three months in the Schengen area during any six-month period, you must wait another three months from the last date of departure from the Schengen area before you can apply to enter the Schengen area again without a European Visa.”
Huh? Okay, so if I’m in those 27 countries and I’m there for 90 days, I have to then wait for 3 months after your departure from Europe within a 6-month period? What? Ok… that’s the simplest of the expiations, and that was clear as mud. So, what you are saying is, “With a valid U.S. passport, you can stay up to 90 days for tourism or business during any 180-day period.
Do not overstay! You must wait an additional 90 days before applying to re-enter the Schengen area.” Yet again, what?
The rule for Visiting Europe Interpretation:
To stay longer than 90 days out of a 180 period in Europe, you must have a European Visa. Period. You must apply for a visa through the embassy of the country where you will spend most of your time.
If you’re bouncing from country to country as I was, I guess pick one and apply there. Heck, I don’t know. Try it, and see what happens. But these days are cumulative. so let’s say next time I come into one of those countries for 60 days, leave to go to the UK for 20 days, come back to one of those European countries, and then back to Europe, you’ll need to figure out the last 180 days.
So, I will only be able to be in Europe for 30 more days in a total period of 180 days. If you add up wherever you were in the last 180 days, and it’s more than 90 days in Europe, you will 1) Must apply for a European Visa, or 2) wait another 90 days after a complete 180-day period before you can come back in. Make sure you use your calendar and mark off how many days you are there, and don’t screw it up. Clear as mud, I’m sure.
Back to the Story
Okay, so now I officially know the rule. During my stay, I had not even the slightest clue that this was “a thing.” I was going to bounce to one more country for a month and just wanted to see if there was any funky rule I had missed, and yep, there sure was. If anyone could nail the I screw up nail right on the head, it was me.
So, the country I was planning to bounce to was Germany, and let’s just say Germany and Switzerland are the two main sticklers on this rule.
If anyone is going to go, count the number of days. Let’s just say I changed my plane ticket with a quickness. I found that several of the other bloggers had this same issue happen, and they recommended going to Spain or Portugal to officially exit the Schengen, as they were less likely to check or stress it.
So, I changed my booking to Spain. Let’s just say that the day I left, I wore a very low-cut shirt and looked as cute as could be and found the smelliest immigration officer and flashed a happy, cute, please look at my boobs and not my passport smile. Not the best strategy by any means, but thankfully, it worked. He stamped my passport, and away I went with my hands shaking. I literally was sweating bricks (not bullets-that’d be bad to do in an airport), so bricks it is.
So, what would be the consequences if they had checked out the number of days I had been there? Well, first off, it goes into the record as an overstay (again, not sure how that affects future travels), I probably would have been fined, could have been deported, and they could possibly have kept me from coming back to the Schengen for a number of years. Seriously y’all? Is this a thing? Still makes me shake my head.
European Visa Options
So, if you’re traveling into Europe and plan on doing that for over three months, here are Option A and Option B. Option A, you take that calendar and plan very carefully the number of days you will be traveling in the country (then recount it) and get out before your time is due. Option B: Apply for a different type of European Visa that will allow you to stay longer. Make sure to check with the embassy in the European country you will spend the most time in for further European Visa details.
As careful as I try to be, and as much research I’ve tried to put into each area, I tell you, if you miss one little thing, the sky may fall, and the world could end. Well, maybe not that crazy, but you get the just.
So, where’s the next place I screwed up a European Visa, you ask? Well, if you haven’t read the story on Thailand, click here to read that one. I swear, one of these days, I’ll have the basics of traveling down. It’s only what I now do professionally (hit head on the wall and repeat), and I have traveled pretty much off and on since I was 18 on my own. So, don’t feel bad if you screw it up, just try to take a step back and work through all of your options to fix the problem. It may be costly, but it’s better than being deported, jailed, or banned from a country. No matter where you go, always remember to Travel Till You Drop.
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