Traveling in Europe for one year required some careful planning in order to stay comply with Visa requirements of the Schengen countries.
Schengen Countries Map
When I initially started planning to go to Europe for 2014, I started to investigate getting a specific country Visa for a year-long stay. My first pick was Italy since I planned on staying there 1-2 months at the beginning of my trip. I made an appointment for the Italian Embassy in Phoenix, Arizona which is only open once a month. The office is in the Italian club and the representative comes from the Los Angeles embassy for the day.
This idea quickly went out the window as I talked to the representative who was as helpful as could be but really did not think I would be able to get a long term visa and it might take longer than 3 mos (Note: the website said not to apply before 3 mos so I was really in a catch-22). Despite having proof of funds, he felt that “being a self-employed tourist” was not going to warrant a Visa and that I was really going to have to sign up for language and some sort of cultural class. Despite my love for Italy and wanting to learn, I had no desire to be tied to one location or classes.
So I quickly started reviewing the Schengen countries map and re-planning by using the Schengen Visa. The Schengen Zone was created amongst European countries to promote free trade and movement of EU citizens (I like to think of it as how the US States allow entry throughout the USA). Yes, they want long-term visitors and the dollars they bring, but they also don’t want immigrants illegally working.
- Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
- Not part of the Schengen: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, & the United Kingdom. Russia is also not part of the Schengen and a country I visited.
Americans are allowed to enter the Schengen area for 3 consecutive months within a 6 month period. Basically 3 months in and 3 months out.
Europe Country Plan
After my initial time in the UK (Non-Schengen) which was less than the UK 6 months limit, I went into the Schengen zone. When I first came through my first Schengen country (Germany), my passport was stamped. For the next 3 months, my passport was not checked as I moved through several other countries: Switzerland, Italy, Micro-countries (Vatican City, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra), France. From there I went back into to the UK which allows American in for 6 months, and then onto Ireland, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia for a combined 3+ months. I actually went over because there was a lot to see and just to give myself some extra buffer before entering back into the Schengen through Austria and visiting several other Schengen countries. I had absolutely no problems, but did adhere to all the rules.
- When you first cross any external border of the Schengen area, present your passport for an entry stamp. Be sure to ask the official to stamp your passport since you are responsible for proving you have legally entered the Schengen area.
- During each six months period, you will have three months of visa-free travel within the Schengen area.
- When you leave the Schengen area after three months, you must wait another three months before you can re-enter the Schengen area again without a visa. Make sure you again get the exit stamp from the Schengen and entry stamp into your new country to prove your exit date.
- It can get tricky if you go in and out of the Schengen and a 90 day clock from last entry is how they count days. If you plan to go in and out – Check out this Schengen Calculator (Note for Americans – enter the day first ie ddmmyy
Russia does require a Visa which you have to apply for in advance with a cost of ~$250. I was not sure if I was going to visit Russia and had not secured a Visa before leaving the USA. So I utilized one of their regulations which is a 72-hour visa-free rule for international cruise ship/ferry passengers only if traveling with an organized tour and accompanied at all times by a tour operator. I used a local Russian company which picked me up and dropped me off on the cruise for the 2 days I was in Russia for about the same cost as the Visa including transportation and entry into many sites as well as a guide, so I was quite happy with this option. There was a couple that I met on the cruise that did secure a Visa ahead of time and slept in St. Petersburg which sounded like quite a fun adventure. They braved the streets and figured out how to get through the subway. I think they had just as a good of a time with a different experience (Saw less of the sites, but had a few good “local” stories)
Websites for Americans
- US Department of State – Check Visa requirements by country as the Schengen is adding additional countries every year. Also, it lists additional rules such as currency restrictions & vaccinations required.
- Wikipedia – This Wikipedia page was also helpful to quickly look at other country requirements, though I always went to the US Department of State to verify or the specific country site.
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