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:
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?
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.