Yesterday, I learned how much I goofed up in comprehending the Schengen Area travel restrictions with visas.
Turns out, my misunderstandings jive with how others have been understanding the Schengen Zone too, but so few people get the chance to spend more than a couple months in Europe that they’ve never had a problem.
Here’s the lowdown.
The Schengen Area comprises 26+ countries in Europe. (I say “plus” because at this time four nations are vying for that status.) These countries are not all European Union members. It’s pretty much the whole of Northern and Western Europe. Some Balkans are exempt, some are trying to get in, and even Turkey is clamouring, so in the future, things are gonna get even trickier.
How it works is, if a country lies in the Schengen zone, many countries are exempt from requiring a visa (like us in Canada and the USA). The trick is, you are only eligible to travel there for 90 of any 180-day period. Now here’s where the misconception comes in: Many people (myself included) interpret this to mean 90 days in a country, but the problem is that it’s 90 days total and cumulative of any and all travel throughout the entire Schengen zone. So, any days accumulated in ANY Schengen country are applicable to the “90 of 180 days” thing.
Yo, That’s Not Cool for Tourism
I get it though. I live near a tourist centre and I’m grateful for winter, when it dies down. I can’t fathom the frustration in places like Barcelona and Rome, when people never stop coming. It is what it is.
It’s the slowing end of an era, though. This began in 1995, with 10 countries joining in 2007 and 2008. It’s essentially ending the ability to spend a year backpacking in Europe, because much of the continent will now be limited to three months unless you can score an extended work visa.
That’s sad. It’s such a cradle for humanity, a place of artistic and historic importance, and just being there expands people’s minds and hearts. But so it goes. As the Earth’s population explodes, space and place are growing increasingly sacred and we’re all getting a little more protective of who’s encroaching our borders.
How It Changes My Travels
As I just learned the correct interpretation of the Schengen Area yesterday, it really knocked me on my ass. I was beginning my travels in Croatia, one of the few remaining (but likely not for long) regions outside the Schengen zone. What the hell was I thinking?
But then I realized that I was just 140 kilometres from Ljubljana, the picturesque Slovenian city I’ve heard much about. And Slovenia is in the Schengen Area. All I need to do to simplify my travels is to get that Schengen clock a-ticking as soon as I can. So, with 10 days off at the start of my time in Croatia, I’ll take a side trip into Ljubljana for two nights, and TICK TOCK, my 180-day period will start THEN as opposed to when I leave Croatia 2.5 months later.
What this means is that my 180 days begins right away, not the day I arrive in Spain, my first true Schengen country on my travels. It means the difference between spending three months outside of Schengen after my trip to Spain rather than just a two or three weeks to kill before a NEW 180-day period begins, giving me another 3 months in Mainland Europe.
This means I can ostensibly keep my first 6 months as I had planned: Croatia, Spain, Morocco.
Morocco is not a Schengen country, so it’s an easy reboot across the water from Spain. Aside from most of the Balkans, as well as Turkey, the United Kingdom and Ireland are also Schengen-reboot spots. (Yay, UK!)
All Saved By One Small Two-Day Sidetrip
Creativity, I find, is my greatest asset. I’m a creative problem solver and I think it will get me out of jeopardy when travels get tricky like this. Thinking outside the box is really the only way to go.
This will have to be the way I look at my entire time in Europe: Where do those 180 days start and stop? There are stories about people who “ignored” the limit and were caught — easy, since many places require you register your passport with authorities — and were labelled as “illegal immigrant” and now can never travel in the Schengen Area without official visas. I will not be one of those. I will need to be mindful that I’m a guest and, as much as I think it’s an incredibly limiting rule, it’s not my place to be a contrarian. I’ll find my creative resolutions.
Winging It Doesn’t Work So Well Now
I will indeed travel “listening to the wind” once I’m on the ground. What I won’t wing, however, is where I’m based in each region. Too much hinges on it. It was a big enough choice before I knew about Schengen, but even moreso now. I have a very specific plan in mind for my travels — a dollar limit to meet, a savings plan in place, and a budget I’m not willing to blow past. This means not travelling great distances frequently, because that’s a real budget-buster.
Also, for me, where I am based plays out big-time in whether I can save and live the life I want to live. If I’m gonna work 30% less, I really need to do the math and understand if a region can accommodate my budgeting needs. If not, it’s time to blow off to South-East Asia and go big on savings.
Planning where I land doesn’t mean I can’t be spontaneous once I’m there. It just means I’m gonna sleep a lot better with the choices I make.
In the end, there’s a happy mix between being well-informed and spontaneous. With a little extra research this week, I’ve saved myself a potentially unpleasant lesson to learn on the road. So this tip’s for free: Always double-check what you think you know. Saving your own ass never gets old.