How Long Can I Stay in Europe?
As an American, your length of stay in Europe depends on which countries you plan to visit. If you’re traveling to one or more of the 27 countries in the Schengen area, which includes France and most of mainland Europe, then you can stay 90 days out of 180. This is known as the 90/180 rule or the Schengen Visa, even though no actual visa is required for Americans.
You can travel from one Schengen country to another without border checks or the need to show your passport. The 27 Schengen countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Traveling to or out of the Schengen area is where the 90/180 rule kicks in. Basically, you can stay for three months out of every six months in the Schengen area. But your visits do not need to be consecutive. You can travel to a non-Schengen country and return to a Schengen country as long as your time in the Schengen area is 90 days or less within a 180-day period. The 180-day timeline starts from the first day you enter a Schengen country. The best way to keep track of the 90/180 rule is to use a Schengen calculator. I find this one the easiest to use.
Don’t overstay the Schengen Visa
Avoid overstaying the 90 days at all cost if you want to return to Europe. Penalties depend on the number of days you have overstayed, and the country where you’re caught. If passport control discovers you have overstayed your visa, you will most likely be fined and immediately deported, and you may be banned from entering the Schengen area for several years.
Tip: Be sure to get your passport stamped every time you enter and leave the Schengen area so you can prove you have not overstayed the 90 days.
Your entry and exit from the Schengen area will be even more closely monitored once the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) visa waiver is implemented. All Americans who want to enter a Schengen country for any length of time will be required to apply for the visa waiver before leaving the US. This will be an online process requiring a background check and a small fee, but it will be good for three years unless you get a new passport within that time. The ETIAS visa waiver has been delayed until after the Olympics in Paris in summer 2024.
How to legally stay longer than 90 days in Europe
If you want to extend your European stay beyond the 90 days, you can do what’s known as the “Schengen Shuffle.” It’s simply a matter of following the 90/180 rule and spending time in countries outside of the Schengen Zone. For example, you could spend three months in Germany, then fly to London and spend three months exploring the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Then travel through Sweden for three months. Or you can alternate between spending one month in the Schengen area and one month out of the Schengen area. As long as you follow the 90/180 rule, you can keep traveling through Europe and surrounding countries indefinitely.
EU countries not in the Schengen area are Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Ireland. The United Kingdom and Albania are not a part of the EU nor the Schengen area. As an American, you can spend up to six months in each of these two countries. Other non-EU, non-Schengen countries are: Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Holy See, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, San Marino, Ukraine and Vatican City. Check out each non-Schengen country’s visa requirements, length-of-stay restrictions and travel advisories before visiting.
Apply for a long-stay visa
If you want to legally stay longer, mainly in one country, you can apply for a long-stay visa. Every country's visa requirements are different, and the type of visa you apply for will depend on whether you’re going as a tourist, a student, an entrepreneur or for a job. Be aware of whether the visa is a resident or non-resident visa. France offers a four to six-month non-resident tourist visa. However, its one-year visa is a resident visa which obligates you to abide by France’s income tax laws on your worldwide income, as well as banking and inheritance laws. Be sure to consult a tax accountant, financial planner and estate planner who are experienced in helping expats in the particular country where you want to enjoy an extended stay.
With careful planning, you can enjoy an extended stay in European. This summer, I plan on spending almost four and a half months in Europe. I’m extending my stay by taking a side trip from France to the UK for six weeks. That will be the longest I’ve spent in Europe in one stretch. I’ll let you know how it goes.