How to Stay in Europe Without a Visa (Legally, of Course)

Posted on 31. Mar, 2014 by in Europe Travel, Expat Life, Travel Tips

Europe Without a Visa

So many of my friends and readers have asked me this question over the years: how have you managed to stay in Europe for so long? How hard is it to get a visa, or to travel from one country to another? 

Jetting off to Europe, exploring every nook and corner of cities regularly pictured in romantic movies, sipping wine on a terrace while admiring the view of the medieval square. Yes, a long-term vacation to Europe sounds quite dreamy, but there are a few rules to follow when it comes to staying in Europe legally and avoiding trouble at the border.

The post is mostly aimed at Canadians, Australians and Americans, as the visa policies are quite resembling when it comes to European territory.

Europe Without a Visa — Understanding the Schengen Area

Europe Without a Visa

The most crucial notion to keep in mind when organizing a European vacation is the Schengen area. It’s important to know that the European Union, the Euro Zone and the Schengen area, while similar in many ways, are quite different in reality. The the two former items are economic and political areas, the latter, is geographical. The area currently covers a population of over 400 million people and an area of 4,312,099 square kilometres (in other words, enough to keep you busy for a little while!).

The Schengen area is comprised of 26 European countries that have abolished border control in-between their common border, functioning as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. 

The general rule, for both Americans and Canadians,  is a maximum stay of 90 days in any 180 day period (consecutive or non-consecutive). That is to say visitors can remain in the Schengen area for a maximum period of 90 days and must wait another consecutive 90 day period to re-enter the area. In other words, you have to spend 90 days out before you can “renew” another 90 days within the Schengen area.

Europe Without a Visa — Playing by the Rules

Europe Without a Visa

It’s actually pretty easy to legally stay in Europe without a visa for more than the allotted 90 days. There are basically two scenarios possible: either get a long-term visa in one European country, or exit the Schengen area by visiting surrounding countries.

Getting a Long-Term Visa

Despite being part of the same geographical area, not all countries have the same rules when it comes to long-term stays. Some countries simply don’t offer the option, while others require ample paperwork in exchange of a tiny stamp in your passport, which will allow you to stay for a specific amount of time and specific conditions.

A few countries offer long-term visas (Italy, France, Sweden, for example) and other offer employment-specific visas (Germany has a self-employment/freelancing visa) that can apply to you. Some even have mutual exchange programs that allow young citizens to live and work abroad for a definite amount of time (Sweden-Canada, France and French-speaking Canada, for example)

Citizens of Canada, United States and Autralia under the age of 30 are also eligible to working holidays visas in the United Kingdom (this is what I did when I moved the UK for 10 months), which can be a fantastic and inexpensive way to legally spend a year or two in Europe, granted that you have substantial savings (usually a minimum of $5000) to prove that you can subsist on your own money and not public funding while you are there.

Details concerning these visas and the rules that apply to you can be found on your home country embassy’s website.

Europe Without a Visa

Exiting the Schengen Area While Staying in Europe

The UK, Ireland, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, Cyprus, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia are not part of the Schengen area. Each country has a different set of rules for visitors, but it would definitely be worth looking into including these countries to your European voyage in order to maximize your time on the continent.

Canadians, Australians and Americans are legally allowed to stay for 180 consecutive days in the UK,  the ideal place to spend time while waiting to re-enter the Schengen area after completing a 90-day stay.

If you are serious about “legally hacking” your stay in Europe, you should regularly check the status of countries that have either declined to be in or have yet to be implemented to the Schengen area, as the rules could change and therefore impact your itinerary. Right now the main countries to follow-up on are Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Europe Without a Visa

Europe Without a Visa — Good to Know

  • No visa necessary to travel within the Schengen area for Canadians, Australians and Americans.
  • Visitors are not allowed to work or rely on public funding.
  • Visitors are granted up to 90 days of travel within the Schengen area.
  • It is not possible to extend a Schengen area stay.
  • Some Northern Europe countries are notoriously strict with entry and and exit, while Southern countries are less careful. Either way, it is unwise to overstay in the Schengen area, as you could end up with the “Illegal Immigrant” mention on your passport.
  • The UK, Ireland, some of the Balkan countries, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine are not part of the Schengen area and may require a visa or, at the very least, border control. They are also great places to spend time in between 90-day stays in the Schengen area. Other non European countries like Morocco should also be considered.
  • Southern Spain, Portugal, Poland, Ireland, the Balkans and Turkey are incredibly inexpensive places to live in, while France, Scandinavia, the UK and Germany tend to be a bit more costly.

Spending a lengthy amount of time in Europe is something many people only dream about, yet it’s surprisingly easy to accomplish with a little bit of research, organization and compromise. I always tell people that living abroad or going on an extended vacation is an incredible life experience that provides so much more than just pretty travel pictures.

Have you ever legally hacked your way into Europe? Would you consider doing it?

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35 Responses to “How to Stay in Europe Without a Visa (Legally, of Course)”

  1. Laura

    31. Mar, 2014

    Germany and France’s youth visas for Canadians extend to age 35… you just have to apply before turning 36.

    Apparently youthfulness lasts longer in those two countries :)

    Reply to this comment
  2. Bratran Mavuabu

    01. Apr, 2014

    Maybe I missed a meeting or two, but can someone remind me why exactly it is such a cool idea to stay an extended period of time in Europe? This article sounds desperate about this subject, but I fail to see why the objective is so attractive. I never ever in my life wanted to spend an extended time anywhere in the world, let alone Europe… so a bit of enlightenment would perhaps help me understanding this new craze? Thanks! :-)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      01. Apr, 2014

      Well, some people like the idea of taking a sabbatical year from work or a gap year after college and go explore Europe. Some people are drawn to the idea of switching daily obligations (bills, work, schedule, etc.) for a couple of months of discovery, lazy mornings, culinary experiences and long walks on the beach.

      Reply to this comment
    • Rick

      07. Apr, 2014

      I am an American and would like to spend the rest of my life in Europe if i could figure out how to accomplish it.

      Reply to this comment
      • Marie-Eve Vallieres

        10. Apr, 2014

        Well I’ve just told you how to do it :-) You just have to move around a bit!

        Reply to this comment
  3. Andrea

    01. Apr, 2014

    My understanding of the law is that you have to spend 90 days out before you can “renew” another 90 days with Schengen. It’s so frustrating because they keep expanding the zone. Personally I think they should increase the time to 6 months, as should the United States because who can see the whole country (or in Europe’s case, countries) in three months? And to the commenter above, golly - I love Europe and could spend a year there easily just travelling around. So many countries and all accessible by train, with such different cultures so close together…bliss!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      01. Apr, 2014

      Yes, that’s exactly what the law states. I’m sorry if I made that unclear. And I completely agree with you — 90 days is not nearly enough time to cover all of Europe! But I see it as a great opportunity to focus on countries that are less popular or not within the zone, like the UK, Ireland, Turkey, Cyprus, etc.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Grifel

    02. Apr, 2014

    First I want to thank you for this excellent explanation of the Schengen zone visas. It’s a keeper!

    Then I want to ask: Has anyone ever heard of people being deported for overstaying a Schengen visa? Or of anyone’s “visa” being checked? I have often gone to Europe without a thought about the visa since the first year, when we stayed for 6 months within the “zone.” I really don’t think there’s much to worry about here. I have flown into London and then traveled into the Schengen zone to avoid the stamp of a Schengen country in my passport but I don’t think I’d do that now. If you stay for a long time in one locale, you might wish to apply for a long-stay visa, but in general the reality is that this seems very unnecessary for the traveler on the move. I think it’s been created to limit the stays of those who might be considered “undesirable.”

    Am I wrong?

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      04. Apr, 2014

      I think the general rule is to not overstay, period. However, the trouble you will be in (or lack thereof) really depends on the border officer.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Gerardo Fainsod

    07. Apr, 2014

    Hi Marie,
    I really appreciate your blog, its been a great guide for my trip to Europe… I´ll be traveling for 3 months (going solo).

    The thing is that Im mexican and I don’t quite understand the limits that I might have. I know most of your audience are americans and canadians, but if you have any advise regarding the Schengen area I´d really appreciate your help.

    Im starting May the 1st, and Im already nervous and excited!

    Thanks!
    Gerardo.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      07. Apr, 2014

      Hello Gerardo! As per the Schenge agreement, Mexicans can stay up to 90 days at a time in the Schengen area without a visa. Pretty much the same rules applies to Mexicans, Canadians and Americans. Hope this helps, have a great trip! :-)

      Reply to this comment
  6. Gerardo Fainsod

    07. Apr, 2014

    Thanks a lot Marie! Any recommendation? Im pretty excited about Scotland, Portugal, Croatia and Norway…

    Of course the must visit countries (France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands)… Im looking forward for places with amazing views, landscapes, small folkloric towns (thats why im talking about Scotland, Portugal, Croatia and Norway)… what do u think?

    Thanks again!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      10. Apr, 2014

      All of the places you listed are amazing, and very different from each other. I’m positive you will have a fabulous trip!

      Reply to this comment
  7. Maya

    05. Aug, 2014

    I’m going to be studying abroad in Seville, Spain this September and later graduate in December. Therefore, I will be a fresh graduate and not having to return to the U.S. for school. I want to travel, however my University made our program within the 90 days. So…when school gets out what country would you recommend me to go, in order to stay in Europe longer to travel without a student visa????

    Morocco?

    or ideas…

    Maybe marriage?

    Please list.

    Thank you
    Xoxo

    Maya

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      06. Aug, 2014

      Hello Maya,

      You will need to exit the Schengen area once your 90-day stay is up. You will have to be gone for another 90 days before you can return, which means you can go anywhere outside of the Schengen area, including the UK, the Balkans (except Greece), Ireland and Romania. You could also consider Morocco and Turkey.

      Reply to this comment
  8. andrew w

    17. Oct, 2014

    Hi there, thanks for the info. My understanding of the 90 day rule is a little different - please correct me if I’m wrong. Say you went to Europe March 1st and stayed for 2 weeks. The 180 day clock would start at this point and end around Sept 1. So, if you returned to Europe in July, you could technically stay through December because your 3 month allotment would start over around Sept 1. Thanks!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      17. Oct, 2014

      The rule doesn’t really apply to visitors just popping in every once in a while, but only to those staying for several months. If you only travel a few weeks at a time then that’s not a concern for you.

      The 90-day clock doesn’t start over every time you enter the Schengen area within a 90-day period - it starts upon first entry (say March 1st), and ends 90 days later (May 31st). You are allowed to travel within the area as you please for that period. But as soon as it ends (May 31st), you have to remain outside the Schengen area for 90 consecutive days, and only after this can you return to the Schengen area (from September 1st). And then the cycle starts over.

      If, as you say, you decided to return to Europe on July 1st, you could only stay until September 30th. Your first allotment would have ended on May 31st.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Ric Lopez

    19. Oct, 2014

    Hi great info here. Hope you can help. Im a US citizen living in Cyprus with a permanent resident permit. Can I stay in Schengen area for more than 90 days in this scenario?
    Thanks for any help.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      22. Oct, 2014

      Ric, I am not an immigration specialist, but I believe that as a resident of the EU the 90-day rule doesn’t apply to you. However, it remains to be seen whether you keep your Cyprus residency if you stay outside the country for so long.

      Reply to this comment
  10. danny

    21. Oct, 2014

    The new rule is 90 days in any 180 day period as of October 2013. That is, one has to go back 180 days at any point and make sure that 90 days only have been spent as a tourist.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Catherine

    30. Nov, 2014

    My passport entering France says Leave to Enter for Six Months. I would think I could stay for 6 months, is that not correct? If not why don’t they put the rule on the stamp, no one seems to know what the interpretations are. Thanks for your help.

    Reply to this comment
  12. David

    15. Dec, 2014

    Hi,

    I’m an EU passport holder and my girlfriend is American. I’m teaching in southern spainand she’s ‘on vacation’. We arrived I October and have been doing the maths on her days left before she has to leave and when she can return. Before we arrived in Spain, we spent 2 months visiting my family and traveling in the UK. I don’t suppose it’s possible that her ‘Shengen Clock’ started when we landed in the UK in August? I know the UK isn’t part of Shengen, but we’re kinda hoping for a miracle here.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      27. Dec, 2014

      That is indeed not possible because the UK isn’t in the Schengen zone. Her Schengen clock as you call it started when she entered Spain - from that point, she has 90 days in the country until she has to leave the Schengen area (either to go back to the UK or any another place that isn’t in the Schengen area).

      Reply to this comment
  13. Ethan

    12. Jan, 2015

    Its worth checking out your country’s bilateral visa waiver agreements with individual Schengen countries. For example, I contacted the Dutch embassy in Canberra (Australia) about travel through the Schengen space, and they responded stating:

    “An example of what is possible/allowed:
    - An Australian passport holder flies to London and continues to Germany. He travels through Schengen (outside of the Netherlands) for the first 90 days.
    After this trip he can stay another 90 days in the Netherlands and fly out of the Schengen zone using a Netherlands airport or by boat from a Netherlands marine port.”

    “An example of what is not possible/not allowed:
    -An Australian passport holder flies to the Netherlands, travels from there through Schengen and then returns to the Netherlands. This person cannot stay an additional 90 days in the Netherlands.”

    While it may take a traveller less than 90 days to see the Netherlands, the waiver offers a chance for Australian passport holders (probably US and Canadians too) to explore the area for a bit longer, e.g. spend more time in another country knowing that you have 3 months allowance for the Netherlands at the end of the first period.

    I am waiting on a response from the Norwegian, Italian, Austrian and German embassies for confirmation on similar agreements;

    Norway: Bilateral agreement between Norway and Australia, allowing stays for up to 90 days visa free in Norway, in addition to any days spent in a Non- Nordic Schengen country.

    Italy: Spend three months in Italy, and you may return after one month abroad, for another 3 months stay.

    Germany: 90 days outright, depart the country and return (even on the same day) for another 90.

    It would be a good idea to print such emails off to show to border control, should they be unaware of visa agreements between countries.

    Check here for Aussie agreements with some countries, but I would definitely suggest confirming through your local embassy: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/dfat/treaties/1951/index.html

    Reply to this comment
    • rick

      14. Jan, 2015

      Ethan, that is contrary to everything I have ever been told, or read about Schengen visas, in fact I just had an email from the Dutch immigration dept confirming there was no way round the 90 day rule for Australians.

      It would also seem extremely unlikely that 1951 treaties regarding visas would still be in force, especially given that they predate the EU.

      Reply to this comment
  14. V

    16. Jan, 2015

    Ethan interested to know the responses you get. Can you update when you get response.

    Reply to this comment
    • Ethan

      26. Jan, 2015

      “The German Embassy in Canberra confirms that the German-Australian Agreement on the Exemption of Visa Requirements, dated 22.12.1952, allows Australian citizens to travel to Germany and to stay in Germany for up to 90 days without having to apply for a visa, as long as their passport is valid for the entire duration of the stay and as long as they do not engage in gainful employment in Germany.

      According to this agreement the duration of one stay in Germany must not exceed 90 days. The number of entries to Germany is not limited. In order to re-enter Germany for another 90 days visitors have to depart Germany for any other country and can come back even the same day. Since visitors need to be able to document the period of time they have been spending in Germany we recommend to enter and to depart via a German airport in order to obtain an official entry and departure stamp in their passport.”

      “Dear Sir

      An Australian passport holder does not need a visa for a stay of up to 90 days in any 180 days period in the Schengen area.
      The notion of “any”, implies the application of a “moving” 180-day reference period, looking backwards at each day of the stay (be it at the entry or at the day of an actual check), into the last 180-day period, in order to verify if the 90 days/180-day requirement continues to be fulfilled.

      Please find the link to the calculator for your reference

      http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/borders-and-visas/border-crossing/index_en.htm

      In addition the Embassy can inform you that, according to the SPF Foreign Affairs of Belgium, the actual bilateral agreement formally confirmed through an exchange of Notes on 25 July 1951 between the two countries, entitles Australian citizens to stay for two more months without a visa in Belgium after 90 days spent in any other Schengen countries.

      If you need further clarification, please contact us.”

      Reply to this comment
  15. ethan

    26. Jan, 2015

    Dear Ethan,

    Denmark has a bilateral agreement with Australia too. You can read more about it on our website: http://australien.um.dk/en/travel-and-residence/short-stay-visas/bilateral-visa-agreements/.

    If you have any questions to the information on our website, please contact the Visa Division at the Danish Immigration Service in Copenhagen.

    With kind regards

    GITTE JOHANSSON / GITJOH@UM.DK

    CONSULAR OFFICER

    Reply to this comment
    • ethan

      26. Jan, 2015

      Dear Ethan,

      You are allowed another 3 months on top of the 90 Schengen days according to the bilateral agreement with Australia and Sweden. This is provided that you have not entered into Sweden, Denmark and Norway during your 90 Schengen days. Once you have used all the 90 days in other Schengen countries you are allowed another 3 months in Sweden.

      If you spend any of the days of the 3 months period in Norway or Denmark they must be included in the in the 3 months as it is part of the agreement between Australia and Sweden.

      Kind regards,

      Malin Nilsson

      Visa assistant

      Reply to this comment
  16. ethan

    26. Jan, 2015

    Dear Ethan,

    Thank you for your enquiry.

    The Austrian Embassy confirms that due to the still existing bilateral agreement between Austria and Australia you are able to enter Austria for 3 months, exit the Schengen region (proof to be provided such as exit stamp in passport!) and re-enter Austria for another 3 months visa-free. This, however, is only possible for a total of 6 months per year. The so-called “Schengen-clause” not necessary applied for Australian citizens in Austria.

    Please be aware that other Schengen-countries might not have such an agreement with Australia and would consider any stay exceeding 90 days within 6 months as overstay. You therefore must not enter, travel or exit through these countries. However, you can always check before starting your travel with their respective diplomatic representations in Australia.

    Reply to this comment
  17. ethan

    26. Jan, 2015

    Dear Ethan Lewis,

    Reference is made to your e-mail dated January 13 2015.

    I can confirm that there is a bilateral agreement as mentioned in your e-mail, and that you may stay in Norway for 90 days after a 90 days stay in the other Schengen countries. However, when leaving Norway, be sure to have a direct flight out of Schengen.

    Vennlig hilsen/Best regards
    Anne Aubert
    senior legal adviser
    Oppholdsavdelingen/Residence Departement

    Reply to this comment
  18. suzie

    10. Feb, 2015

    I have dual citizenship with Canada and Finland because both my parents are Finnish. I applied a long time ago for dual citizenship, so I am a citizen of Canada and Finland. Do you know the rules different if I am considered a Finnish citizen as well?

    Reply to this comment

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