Schengen Zone Travel Hacks

A lot of our viewers asked about the Schengen Zone tourist visa in Europe and how it works. We were confused about the specifics before we started traveling through Europe and had the same questions too! That’s why we’re explaining the Schengen visa functionality and how to hack it to make the most of your time in Europe.

Designed to facilitate seamless travel within participating European countries, the Schengen visa simplifies border crossings and procedures for tourists and business travelers. Here’s an in-depth look at how the Schengen visa works starting with:

What is the Schengen Visa

The Schengen visa is a travel document that grants holders entry, transit, or stays in any of the 29 Schengen Area countries for 90 days within a 180-day period. These countries have mutually agreed to abolish internal borders and implement common entry and exit policies.

That means you can travel between the countries the same way you travel between states in the U.S.; they are domestic flights.

If you’re traveling from a pre-approved country, such as the United States or Canada, you  don’t have to apply for the visa before your visit. You get it automatically at the first port of entry.

You get your passport stamped upon arrival and you MUST get it stamped when you’re leaving the Schengen area so you have physical proof of the days you entered and left the zone.

Travelers can move between the 29 Schengen countries for 90 days then must exit the zone (go to a non-Schengen country) for another 90 days. After 90 days outside of the zone you can go back and start the 90 days in Schengen zone all over again.

The 29 members of the Schengen Area are:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

European Countries that are NOT in the Schengen Zone:

  • Albania
  • Armenia
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • Cyprus
  • Georgia
  • Ireland
  • Kosovo
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • North Macedonia
  • Serbia
  • United Kingdom

Countries Close to Europe that are NOT in the Schengen Zone:

  • UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi)
  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Türkiye

How it Works

The 180-Day Period: The 180-day period is a rolling timeframe that begins on the day you first enter the Schengen Area. It is not limited to calendar months or visa validity dates.

The 90-Day Calculation: During any 180-day period, you can stay in the Schengen Area for a maximum of 90 days. These 90 days can be consecutive or cumulative, depending on your travel patterns.

Cumulative Stay: If you enter the Schengen Area multiple times within the same 180-day period, your stay is calculated by adding up the total number of days spent in the region. Once you reach 90 days of stay within the 180-day period, you must leave the Schengen Area or obtain a long-stay visa or residence permit if you wish to stay longer.

Schengen Example 1

You enter the Schengen Area on January 1st and stay for 30 days.

After leaving, you return on March 1st and stay for another 60 days.

In this scenario, you have used up your 90-day allowance within the 180-day period. You must wait until the 180-day period resets before returning to the Schengen Area without exceeding the 90-day limit.

Schengen Example 2

You enter the Schengen Area on May 1st and stay for 45 days, departing on June 15th.

After a brief trip outside the Schengen Area, you return on July 10th and stay for 30 days, leaving on August 9th.

You then return once more on October 1st and stay for 15 days, departing on October 15th.

In this scenario:

From May 1st to June 15th: 45 days

From July 10th to August 9th: 30 days

From October 1st to October 15th: 15 days

Total days within the 180-day period: 45 + 30 + 15 = 90 days

Since you have reached the maximum 90-day allowance within the 180-day period, you must wait for the 180-day period to reset before returning to the Schengen Area without exceeding the 90-day limit.

How We Are Traveling

We’re doing 3 months in and 3 months out to keep it simple and efficient. We like to do short hops and minimize plane travel. Our journey began in Portugal and from there we went to Spain, Italy, and Greece. At the end of our 90 days we went to Albania and Montenegro for the 90 days outside of Schengen.

Once our 90 days outside are completed, we’re going to start all over again, visiting more countries in the Schengen zone.

Simple Schengen Itineraries

Here are some simple country itineraries to get you started:

Western Europe

If Western Europe is more your cup of tea, start in Portugal and stay for 3 months or spend a month there, a month in Spain and a month in France.

If you end up in Paris, you take the train to London at the end of the 90 days because the UK and Ireland are NOT in the Schengen Zone!

The UK has a 6-month tourist visa for Americans and Ireland has a 90-day tourist visa.

That means you can stay in one country or split your 90 days between them before returning to Schengen Zone.

You can also go from north to south and end up in Spain or Portugal. From there, it’s a short flight to Morroco where you can stay for 90 days on a tourist visa.

Eastern Europe

Western Europe is great, but it’s also a lot more expensive so if you’re on a tight budget, Eastern Europe might be a better option.

Start your journey in Southern Italy in a place like Sicily or Puglia and then take a ferry to Greece.

When your 90 days are up, you can go to Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, North Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo or even Turkey.

Albania has a 1-year tourist visa for Americans and the other countries in this region offer 90-day tourist visas.

That means you can spend your entire 90 days in one country or split your time between multiple countries.

Schengen Travel Hack

Use this  Schengen Travel Hack to live in Europe for a year or longer without the hassle or expense of applying for residency.

Live in  the Schengen zone for 90 days continuously, exit the zone for 90 days, and then re-enter through 1 of the Schengen countries.

That’s it! But be sure to keep track of your dates so you don’t overstay and face fines or other penalties.

You can use this Schengen Area Calculator to help with your planning.

We recommend Leaving a buffer of 5 days on both ends in case flights get canceled or you can’t travel for whatever reason (that’s what we’re doing, better to be safe than sorry!).

For example, if you’re traveling through a Schengen country and your flight gets canceled you’ll have to go through customs and that will add a day to your time within the zone.

Getting stuck in a Schengen country during transit due to adverse weather or another issue counts towards your time inside the zone. Therefore you might accidentally overstay your visa and you’ll face fines or other penalties, so plan carefully!

Travel Health Insurance

Make sure to have travel insurance for health care emergencies. Check with your current insurance company first because they may offer additional coverage. If not, a couple of good options are Insured Nomads and Safety Wing.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the intricacies of the 90/180 rule is crucial for seamless travel throughout Europe. Follow these guidelines and plan your itinerary accordingly.  By doing so, you’ll make the most of your time in the Schengen Area while complying with immigration regulations. Plus you can live the dream of living full time in Europe!

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I grew up in the Chicagoland area and spent most of my career working as a sales rep in the commercial lighting industry. I still work online for a company in Denver doing sales CRM administration. YouTube is my part-time gig, but I'm so happy we can share our Unconventional Life and hopefully inspire you live yours!

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