Sunday, January 25, 2015

A North-American Guide to Visas in Europe

A North-American Guide to Visas in Europe
By Glynna Prentice
Do you dream of spending time in the Old World? If you're not ready for a full-time commitment to Europe but would like to give its medieval market towns and historic cities a try than I have a solution.
Part-time living in Europe, on a simple tourist visa, is pretty much obligation-free for North Americans. The only trick: You can't overstay your welcome. So like other North Americans who spend part of the year in Europe, I've learned to count how many days I can legally stay, and I plan out my trips like a battle marshal.
First, the rules for stays in Europe...
The United Kingdom allows North Americans—and many other nationalities—to stay on a tourist visa for up to six months. But it's the exception. Most of mainland Europe is part of the Schengen Zone: a group of countries that have signed an agreement to operate as a single unit for tourist visas, among other things. Within the Schengen Zone, there are no internal “border crossings.” Your passport is stamped when you enter the Zone and when you leave; the rest of the time you usually can move freely from one Schengen Zone country to the other.
The downside to this convenience: If you're not from a member state—and neither U.S. nor Canadian citizens are—you can only stay in the Schengen Zone for 90 days out of every 180. (Note: 90 days is not the same as three months.)
You can spend your 90 days in the Zone in a single block or a few days at a time, entering and leaving the Zone. Likewise, you can spend those 90 days in a single country, or you can travel around the Zone. Either way, you're limited to 90 days.
The 180-day clock starts when you first enter the Zone, and it's a rolling limit. That is, by the time you hit Day 91 of your time in Schengen-Zone Europe, at least 180 days must have passed since you first entered.
If you want to stay longer than 90 days at a stretch, you need to get a residence visa for one of the Schengen-Zone countries. Once you do, you can stay legally in that country for the length of your residence visa...and your 90-day tourist limit applies to all the other Schengen-Zone countries.
You can always return to North America when your 90 days in the Schengen Zone are up.
But what about those who dream of spending a year or more vagabonding around Europe? What if you want to rent your house back home for the year, for instance, and use the rent to fund your European adventure? It's possible to stay within the rules and do this, too—at least for a year or so.