A Backpacker’s Worst Nightmare: The Schengen Agreement

If you have been backpacking Europe for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve ran into the Schengen Agreement before. So, what is it, anyways?

The Schengen Agreement creates border-less movement within 27 countries in Europe. The list of countries is constantly changing. The below image shows the Schengen Area as of 2012:schengen_map_en

The positive swing of the Schengen Agreement is that it makes EU travel extremely easy. Trains and buses pass over boarders without stopping—no customs or passport checks to delay your journey.

Now for the bad news. Schengen countries imply strict restrictions. The rule that will trip up travelers up is the 90 days/180. Basically, travellers from Australia, America, and Canada are only allowed within all of the combined Schengen countries for a total of 90 days within 180. (Kiwis are a bit luckier—they are allowed in EACH Schengen country for 90 days.Citizens from other countries may need a Schengen Tourist Visa.) They do not have to be consecutive days. Between the 180 days, you MUST spend at least 90 of them outside of the Schengen Zone. Once the 180 days are up, your count restarts and you MUST leave the Schengen area.

They do this to ensure that overseas visitors are not illegally working within the EU. They don’t want foreigners stealing jobs from the locals.

However, if you spend MORE than 90 days outside of the Schengen Zone, the count restarts when you re-enter.

Here’s an example of my trip to clear things up:
I entered Norway (Schengen) on July 17. I spent a total of 54 days in the Schengen Zone. Then I went to Scotland (non-Schengen) for 92 days, returning to Germany (Schengen) on December 9th. According to the count, I should have 34 days left in my 180 before my count restarts on January 14th, right?

WRONG.

Because I spent over 90 days in Scotland, my count ACTUALLY restarted when I returned to the Schengen Zone on December 9th. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that I was planning on staying in Europe for a ski season. 90 days after December 9th only took me to March, meaning I would have to leave a month earlier than I wanted to.

Pain in the butt? You have no idea.

There are ways around this. For me, staying longer wasn’t worth the price of potential permanent deportation from the Schengen Zone and a big, ugly red-flag that could damage my traveling days forever.

I found myself in a peculiar position. I am a Canadian with a 2-year UK Tier 5 work visa. Sadly, this doesn’t make me a UK citizen, or even impartial to the Schengen Agreement. I am still considered a Canadian citizen with no special treatment by all of the EU countries.

However, my dreams of working on the Alps weren’t completely crushed. I applied to work in France with a UK company. Their headquarters were based in London, making it legal for me to work for them. All I had to do was fill out a form explaining that in order to complete my job, I had to work overseas. The company was willing to do this for me because I spoke French. Fluent English and French speakers are in high-demand at holiday spots in France. I’m sure there are similar situations within Europe.

As you can see, it’s a load of hassle to work around this agreement. I would advise backpackers to stay away from any loop-holes and respect the rules of the agreement. Make sure what you’re doing is completely legal. Nothing is worse the price of deportation, because there is nothing worse for a traveller than to be forcefully grounded.

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13 comments

  1. Hi there! I fully understand your frustration. I believe countries and lands shouldn’t have any border, visas requirements, flags and other burocratic stuff. We all belong to the planet, not to governments!

  2. I was planning this awesome trip to Europe and somehow stumbled upon the Schengen Visa… WOW my plans have changed!!! I’m still gonna do the three months there but now need to keep myself busy for the other 3 months as I still want to travel for a bit so I’m thinking UK….? And then off to Canada for a working holiday – any tips there?? Thinking Alberta

    • Cricket’s Aunty – Where are you from? You will probably need a working visa for Canada as well. It’s a bit difficult to obtain, but once you do, there are plenty of jobs in Alberta, if you don’t mind the cold!

  3. I’m from Australia and already have my Canadian visa (took about 6 weeks which is the advised time). I’m thinking Banff for the winter and will decide where to go after that 🙂

  4. Wow, I didn’t realize that the Schengen agreement is so complicated for people outside of the EU… I have a rather stupid passport (born in Estonia, so I’m stateless), so the Schengen agreement is actually the only reason I can travel anywhere at all, because I live in the EU. Life would be so much easier if everyone could just go to whatever country they wanted to visit and got a free stamp in the passport while entering.

    Nice blog by the way, I enjoy reading your posts 🙂

  5. Hello Alison! Really enjoyed reading your blog and this one in particular intrigued me.

    I’ll be leaving on a trip to the Europe (UK/Ireland and a bunch of Schengen area countries) in a few weeks. I’ve currently planned it so that I spend 1 month in the Schengen area, 93 days in the UK and Ireland, and then 89 days in the Schengen area again so I should be fine as my count should “reset” while I’m out of the Schengen area. I was just wondering where you got your information from because I’ve been searching the Internet for some “official” stance from the EU but I can’t seem to find any that support the idea that the Schengen area counter would be reset if you leave for over 90 days! All I found is that the 180 days for the counter starts on your first day of entry into the Schengen area. Could you drop me an email or give me some advice to relieve my anxiety about being caught at immigration?

    Thanks and best wishes with your future travels!

    • Hey Kenneth!

      Thanks for your comment and question. The answer is yes, your days work out, and your count will be restarted as long as you spend over 90 days outside of the Schengen Zone (you can find a complete list of non-Schengen countries in Wikipedia). I received my information from a border guard in the UK, and trust me, they are tough officials! Although some travellers choose to sneak in to the Schengen Zone by way of bus or boat, or simply overstay their count, I suggest getting your passport stamped properly for proof. Chances are you won’t even be stopped or questioned, but it’s best to stay on the safe side!

      Warm regards and enjoy your trip 🙂

      • Wonderful post! I, too, would absolute love some advice on this! Are you allowed to enter and exit the Schengen area for a max of 90 days visa-free within a 6 month period, or are the 90 days time-stamped when you first enter the Schengen area? Right now I’ve planned 60 days in the Schengen area, 40 days in the non-Schengen area, then another 2 weeks in the Schengen area. I just visited the U.S. Consulate in Florence, and they informed me that I’d be considered illegal doing this and might be denied reentry into the Schengen area those last 2 weeks! Thank you for any advice!!

  6. Hi Alison!
    I’m also from Canada, in the UK on a Tier 5 work visa! I’ve tried to look this up on the internet for awhile, but can’t seem to find any proper information. I first entered the Schengen area on April 21, for 5 days, and then spent 32 days in the UK, until I left for the Schengen area again on May 27. I spent 19 days in, 6 days out, and then 10 more days in the area. I have been out of the Schengen area for 20 days now. Since I first arrived in the Schengen I have been outside the area for 58 days. Do you know if the 90 days out have to be consecutive or if it is 90 total for it to be reset? I’m just not sure if I only have 56 days left or if I wait a little longer it will reset?
    Hopefully that isn’t too confusing! haha
    Thank you!

  7. Hi there,
    I’m Australian with a UK Tier 5 visa and I was planning on backpacking around Europe from September-November this year. I only found out about the Schengen zone today and this article really helped me understand it better. Loved the title by the way!

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