How Long Can You Stay in the European Schengen Zone?
Once upon a time, I planned out a trip to Europe without knowing what the Schengen Zone was, and it became a problem. I lost thousands of dollars in rent because I booked properties in advance that I couldn’t end up staying in without overstaying my Schengen Visa.
Over the years, I’ve heard many other travelers and digital nomads asking about this topic, so I created a video about it and this blog to break things down!
In this blog I’ll cover:
What the hell is the Schengen Zone, anyway, and why do you need to know?
Which countries are included in the Schengen Zone?
Which ones are excluded?
What’s the difference between Europe, the EU, and the Schengen Zone?
How long you can stay in Europe + the Schengen Zone depending on your passport?
How do you calculate your days in and out of the Schengen? - How to plan your travel to Europe so you don’t overstay your visa.
Example: How to stay in Europe for 1 year on a 90-day Schengen Tourist Visa (IE: US passport).
Best apps and resources for calculating your days in and out of the Schengen
Where to apply for a Schengen Visa if you need one?
What is the Schengen Zone for?
The original Schengen Agreement was signed in a town called Schengen (surprise!) back in 1985 between three governments (France, Germany, and Luxembourg) with the intention of eliminating border checks. It was ratified in 1990 and eventually led to the creation of the current 26-member Schengen Zone that most people are familiar with today. The original intention was simply to facilitate trade and the movement of people across borders within Europe. This allows people to cross borders without showing an ID or going through border checkpoints (hooray!).
Today, it still serves the same purpose, however it also represents a group of countries with shared entry and exit requirements for foreigners - because you only cross through customs and immigration at airports for the most part. Thus, the Schengen now provides non-EU citizens with visa-free travel throughout member countries.
The general rule is that if you are from a certain list of countries, you can enter the Schengen Zone for 90 days within a 180-day period, and that’s what people who are reading this blog probably care about, so let’s break it down.
Why is the Schengen Zone so confusing?
This is because there are many different categories of countries within Europe, as it pertains to Schengen or Non-Schengen. Here are the different categories a country can fall under (see below) -
Which Countries are in the Schengen Zone and Which Ones Aren’t?
Countries that are in the EU and Schengen Zone:
These are the countries that and both EU member states and in the Schengen. If you are from one of the countries on the accepted list, you can visit these countries visa-free, with just a passport. Check if your country is included here or below at the end of this blog:
List: 22 of 28 EU Member States (26 Countries Total)
2. Countries in Europe and in the Schengen Zone, but not part of the EU:
The non-EU Member States Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland belong to the Schengen area; short stays in these countries count in when assessing the compliance with the 90 days / 180-day rule.
3. Countries in Europe and the EU, but not part of the Schengen Zone:
Stays in Bulgaria, Croatia, Ireland, Romania, Cyprus and the United Kingdom shall not be taken into account as they are not (yet) part of the Schengen area without internal borders.
UK & Northern Ireland (until Brexit kicks in?)
British Dependencies: Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man
4. Countries in Europe (or considered transcontinental countries) but not in the EU or the Schengen:
These countries have their own individual, unique entry and exit requirements separate from the Schengen Area. They also have their own currencies.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
5. Micro and De Facto States that are not Schengen get included in the Schengen anyway and do count against your 90 days:
What is the Difference between Europe, the EU, and the Schengen?
If you are going to the continent of Europe, you could be traveling to countries that fall under any category: Western Europe, the European Union, the Schengen Area, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, etc.
Europe is simply the continent of Europe, with a variety of countries - all with different entry and exit rules.
The European Union (EU) is a group of countries that form a shared political and economic union. Most of them use the Euro as their currency, but some don’t, such as the UK, Bulgaria, and Romania.
The Schengen is a group of countries with borderless travel and shared entry and exit regulations for foreign visitors. Some are in the EU, some aren’t.
For the purposes of travel, it’s just important to know that each country or group of countries allow different lengths of stay. Here is a recap with examples:
Schengen Zone Countries: (France, Spain, etc): A US passport holder (for example) can stay 90 days per 180 days combined, without applying for a visa.
Non-Schengen Countries: Ireland, UK, Croatia, Bulgaria): A US passport holder can stay for 180 days, directly after staying in the Schengen for 90 days, without applying for a visa.
Non-EU, Non-Schengen Countries: A US passport holder can stay for 90 days, directly after having stayed in the Schengen for 90 days or visiting a different, non-Schengen but EU or European country for 90 days previously, all without applying for a visa.
Can we get an example of how this works?
Yes, see below:
How long can you stay in Europe with your passport?
The official text of the rule for non-EU citizens is: the maximum duration of authorised stay is defined as "90 days in any 180-day period […]".
"The date of entry shall be considered as the first day of stay on the territory of the Member States and the date of exit shall be considered as the last day of stay on the territory of the Member States. Periods of stay authorised under a residence permit or a long-stay visa shall not be taken into account in the calculation of the duration of stay on the territory of the Member States."
Here’s that example for US and other passport holders:
Example 1: How to travel within the Schengen over 90 days:
Jan 1: Enter a Schengen Country
Between Jan 1 and April 1, you can travel freely between any countries in the Schengen Zone and the Micro States/De Facto States without crossing a border or leaving the area, including:
After that, you must exit for at least 90 days before re-entering any of those countries.
Example 2: How to travel within the Schengen over 180 days and figure out when you can re-enter:
Enter the Schengen on Jan 1, leave Jan 31 (31 days)
Enter the Schengen on Feb 15, leave Feb 28 (14 days)
Enter the Schengen on March 15, leave April 15 (32 days)
Enter the Schengen on May 20, leave Jun 1 (13 days)
Total: 90 days per 180 days
When can you re-enter the Schengen for a full 90 days? On August 31, 2018:
From the Schengen App
Example 3: How to stay in Europe for 1 year or more with just a passport:
1. Enter the Schengen Jan 1 and stay for 90 days ( = 3 months)
2. Enter a non-Schengen EU country (like Bulgaria or Cyprus) and stay for 90 days ( = 6 months)
3. Enter another non-Schengen EU country (like Croatia or Romania) and stay for 90 days, or enter an EU but non-Schengen country (like UK) and stay for 90-180 days, or enter a non-EU/non-Schengen country (like Serbia) and stay for 90 days ( = 9-12 months)
4. Re-enter the Schengen for 90 days ( = 12-15 months total)
= 1 year or more
At this point, you can theoretically repeat the cycle into perpetuity, or Europe might want you to leave the continent for a while (it depends). It’s important to note that entry to any country in the world is at the discretion of border agents and cannot be guaranteed.
In sum, you can re-enter the Schengen at any point as long as you haven’t surpassed 90 days in the Schengen within any previous 180 day period. So you can spend 180 days per calendar year inside the Schengen. These days can be consecutive or not.
What is the Best App to Calculate your Days in the Schengen Area?
I use this Schengen Visa Control App, and it’s the most user-friendly and straight-forward app I’ve found:
Which Countries are Approved for Visa-Free Travel to the Schengen?
Note: This may change as of 2021 when the ETIAS electronic visa travel system takes effect in Europe.
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1)
United Arab Emirates (2)
Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia and Herzegovina (1)
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia (2)
Marshall Islands (6)
Serbia (excluding holders of Serbian passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (in Serbian: Koordinaciona uprava)) (5)
Trinidad and Tobago
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (6)
2. SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE REGIONS OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
Hong Kong SAR (8)
Macao SAR (9)
3. BRITISH CITIZENS WHO ARE NOT NATIONALS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND FOR THE PURPOSES OF UNION LAW
British nationals (Overseas)
British overseas territories citizens (BOTC)
British overseas citizens (BOC)
British protected persons (BPP)
British subjects (BS)
4. ENTITIES AND TERRITORIAL AUTHORITIES THAT ARE NOT RECOGNISED AS STATES BY AT LEAST ONE MEMBER STATE
Which Countries Require a Visa to Enter the Schengen?
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Central African Republic
Papua New Guinea
São Tomé and Príncipe
2. ENTITIES AND TERRITORIAL AUTHORITIES THAT ARE NOT RECOGNISED AS STATES BY AT LEAST ONE MEMBER STATE
Kosovo as defined by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999
The Palestinian Authority