For those of us not blessed with European passports (eternal sad face), the Schengen Area, or Schengen Zone, puts a real dampener on any hopes of a long-term European holiday. The Schengen Area comprises of many countries in Europe and sort of works like a visa. Within any given 6 months, you have 90 days available to explore any of the countries within the Zone. This isn’t 90 days for each country, it is 90 days in total. Once 6 months (or 180 days, to be exact), have passed, your time restarts and you get another 90 days. It can be a bit of a bummer and travellers are always looking for a way around it.
A map of the Schengen Zone
At the time of writing, the member states of the Schengen Zone are:
This can be summarised as: basically all the countries.
Many travellers choose to just ignore the Schengen Zone rules and see what happens. I, personally, am not about that life. Mostly due to being weirdly scared whenever I do anything wrong, and also out of simple respect for the law. Nobody would ever associate me with #thuglife, but that’s okay because #thuglife’ing the Schengen Zone can actually land you in some dodgy territory. What actually happens when you get caught overstaying is a bit of a travellers’ urban legend. Each backpacker you meet with have some different take on it. Stories I’ve heard range from Spanish border guard not giving a sh•t, to people being deported, to people getting 10 year bans from entering Europe. Europe people — that’s a big place to get banned from.
READ MORE: Europe on a Budget: 14 Unbeatable Tips
All in all, probably not worth illegally trying to overstay.
So what can you do?
The easiest way
There are a number of ways to do this, but I will start with the easiest. Although it seems like all the countries you want to visit are in the Schengen Zone, there are a surprising number which are not included (or are waiting to be included, but are not yet). And these include:
The United Kingdom, The Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Macedonia,
Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Belarus, Romania,
Serbia, Albania, the Ukraine, Russia and Turkey
These destinations are totally worth visiting and will not rack up days on your Schengen count. Although some need visas in advance, like Russia (see: The Interesting Process of Getting A Russian Visa), a lot give you multiple-entry 90 days visas free-of-charge upon entry, like Croatia. I found the Schengen Zone a bit of a blessing in disguise because it meant I went and explored more off-the-beaten path destinations in Europe and made some of my fondest memories.
To also help pass my days awaiting the reactivation of my Schengen time, I went to Morocco for a couple of months to work teaching English. This was a unique and life-changing experience which I wouldn’t have otherwise had. There are cheap flights there and in terms of saving money, it was a backpacker’s dream!
The Balkans are also amazing, full of rich history and have so much to explore. Although these places may not be where you originally intended to visit, the Schengen Area pushes you to have a look and spend some real time getting to know the less-touristy areas of Europe and its surrounds.
For some countries you can get extended Schengen visas, but I do not believe this is available to Australians. So you have to get extended visas for certain countries, but this can be a real pain. Do your research before you go, it’s not something that you can just wing, as many visas will require you to be in Australia to lodge an application. Popular destinations for these extended visas are Germany and Greece, from talking to others who have done it.
Get the best advice
The best and most update advice will always come from the Australian Government, so make sure you check with them before leaving to Europe. Unfortunately, this blog cannot be used as a substitute for actual legal and visa advice. Have a look at SmartTraveller for the Australian Government’s more detailed information, or the European Migration and Home Affairs website.
Have questions or stories about the Schengen Zone? I would love to hear from you?
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