European Visas: Explained
The Schengen Visa is your all-access passport to European goodtimes… that lives in your passport. Here’s what it is, how is works and how you can extend it. Sorry, this article is a little dry, but it’s all the info you need.
The Schengen Visa
Is the European Union’s tourism solution to a continent without borders. One of the tenets of the utterly awesome EU is that along with goods and services there should be a free movement of people. The Schengen visa is what allows tourists to do this and is a far better deal than having to go through immigration every time you cross a border – and in Europe that can happen a few times a day.
All of the EU countries, minus Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Croatia, Ireland and the United Kingdom, plus non-EU countries Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, and tacitly including the tiny countries of Monaco, Vatican City, San Marino and Andorra.
If you want a list of the European countries that are a part of the Schengen area, mostly to just get excited, check this out: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden.
The Schengen visa is indeed a very nice visa to have.
How do we get the Schengen Visa?
If you’re from a visa waiver country you can just turn up and automatically get a Schengen visa when you arrive in a member country. Visa waiver countries include:
Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominica, El Salvador, Emirati Arabi Uniti, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Georgia, Guatemala, Grenada, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Macau, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Northern Marianas, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Santa Lucia, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, St, Vincent e Grenadine, Taiwan, Timor Est, Trinidad e Tobago, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela.
If you’re from a country not on this list then you need to apply for a visa before you arrive.
How long is the Schengen Visa valid for?
The Schengen visa will allow citizens of the countries mentioned above 90 days of entry every 180 days, which basically means you can stay for three months out of every six. This means that you can’t just simply stay your three months, leave the Schengen zone, and then re-enter for another 90 days. You can, however, legally leave and return as often as you like, making sure that you spend as much time outside the zone as within it. This can require some planning, but means that you can stay forever in Europe so long as you travel half of your year in Ireland and the UK, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Cyprus, and the other half within the Schengen zone.
How can I stay for longer than 90 days?
There are plenty of ways! You can study and apply for a student visa, you can work and apply for a working holiday visa, you can get married to a European, there are a number of visas you can apply for, so long as you meet the criteria.
Is there any other way?
You can just stay and hope that the border guards don’t pull you up on your way out. Generally speaking borders are less rigorously policed when people are leaving than when they’re arriving. Also, so the story goes, the countries of southern Europe are more lax with their border policing with anecdotal evidence suggesting that overstaying in places like Greece, Italy and Spain is easier than doing the same thing in Germany and the Netherlands. Of course we can’t advise this, but border security in Europe is a massive job, so long as you don’t hail from a “hot” country, one that produces a lot of refugees, for example, you may not be scrutinised. That said, though…
What happens if I’m caught overstaying?
Depends on the policies of the country and the border staff on duty at the time. You can be banned from entering the Schengen zone for an unspecified period of time. You can get a dreaded “black dot” next to your name, which means you’ll be scrutinised at an advanced level at other borders around the world.
“The best thing to do is to apply for a working holiday visa before you leave home. As an Australian it was pretty easy to get a working holiday visa for the UK, and then roam across Europe with impunity – even though I wasn’t strictly adhering to the 90 day rule of the Schengen zone. What I found was that with an Australian passport questions were never asked when entering Europe, just a quick scan and a stamp. Bing, bang, bong. And when the UK visa ran out you can just cross over to Holland and apply for a working holiday visa there, and once that’s done, why not France? Spain? Germany… make sure it’s all done before you turn 30, though, because apparently old guys don’t want to have fun!” – Keith, vagabond, 34, AustraliaReturn to guide