September 25, 2017

10 Myths of the Schengen Visa: Americans in Europe

Schengen, Schengen, Schengen!!!

If you want to travel, live, or work in Europe for any extended amount of time, understanding the Schengen Agreement is imperative to ... your legal existence.


If you're from a different country than the USA, these facts may also apply to you, but it's always better to do real research on your exact situation before you go. The country list below can help!

The basic rule is that you are allowed to spend 90 days in the Schengen zone out of 180 total days.

If you always abide by this, you will be totally fine.

Schengen Zone: most of Europe.

Source: Project Visa

DO. NOT. TRUST. ANYONE. WHO. TELLS. YOU. OTHERWISE.

I have had multiple European government immigration officials from different countries give me false and conflicting information. Think about how fun it is to argue in French with someone who is wrong, but is paid to regulate foreign workers!

Here are 10 myths and truths about the Schengen, and why it's important to keep to the simple, basic facts about this international travel agreement.


MYTH #1

You're an American and need to apply for and receive a document called a Schengen Visa before entering the Schengen zone.

TRUTH: Americans (and all those countries listed in the above graphic) automatically "receive" the Schengen visa by simply entering the zone and having their passport stamped with an entry date. Other nationalities that may have more complicated political situations or relationships with European countries do indeed have to apply for and receive an actual Schengen visa before travel.


MYTH #2

Europe and the Schengen zone are the same exact thing.

TRUTH: These are not synonymous. The Schengen zone is a group of specific European countries, but it does not include all of Europe, neither geographically nor politically.


MYTH #3

After your 90 days are up in the Schengen zone, all you have to do is leave the zone for a few days (i.e. a weekend in London!) to get a new Schengen date stamp in your passport. This restarts your 90 days.

TRUTH: Some people really live like this, using the UK and Morocco as easy out-of-zone trips to "restart" their passport entry stamp dates. Just because it can sometimes be done successfully, does not mean it is legal! The reality is that after 90 days in the Schengen zone, you would have to spend at least another 90 days outside of it in order to add up to the required 180 day time span.



MYTH #4

After your official long stay visa ends (whether for visiting, work, family, whatever), you now have an additional 90 days in the Schengen because it's like you have just arrived as a tourist.

TRUTH: A German residency official told me this. I wouldn't leave the office until she gave me some kind of extra documentation that declared I was allowed to be in Germany/Europe. 

Experience: Six weeks later, a Portuguese airport official asked to see my visa before boarding a plane! If that airport official had only had my passport to look at, he would have seen my Schengen entry date had been nearly 300 days before. He would have had the legal right to stamp my passport with an "Illegal Immigrant" penalty fine and immediately deport me back to the USA if I hadn't had the proper documentation!


MYTH #5

If you change Schengen zone countries, you get another 90 days. Just make sure you get a new passport date entry stamp.

TRUTH: Good luck getting a new entry stamp between EU countries! Inter-European travel, even by plane, is not border-checked and you can't go around requesting official dated passport stamps at the tourist office. A new country stamp wouldn't matter anyway if an immigration official looked closely at your passport and noticed your original Schengen entry date from earlier.


MYTH #6

Returning to your home country for any amount of time (even less than 90 days) means your 90 days starts over the next time you enter the Schengen because you've received a new passport stamp.

TRUTH: This is wrong. It's the entire reason they made the Schengen agreement state, "90 days within 180 days." The only "magic way" to start your 90 days over is to spend 90 days outside of the zone!


MYTH #7

You can legally work while in the Schengen zone without a work permit as long as it's during your first 90 days.

TRUTH: You can't legally work anywhere without a work permit (even an American working in the USA needs a Social Security Number to legally get a job). Can you find ways to get paid under the table when you don't have work papers? Absolutely.  Is it a good idea? NO. What you can do is spend your allowed Schengen time looking for a job and doing interviews. If you're really savvy, you will do this in a country where you can get your work visa in-country (i.e. Germany) instead of having to return back to the United States (i.e. France).


Experience: Three different employers of mine convinced me this was okay. It was NOT okay! They did this so they didn't have to pay extra taxes for my employment!



MYTH #8

Your official visa for whatever Schengen country begins in September. That means you have 90 days before your visa starts to travel around the zone!

TRUTH: Most visa applications will not even process more than a month or two before your visa/work date will start. In addition, you are depending on the good grace of airport officials who may find the visa in your passport and want to know why you're entering early.

Experience: A Dutchman at the Amsterdam airport was so annoyed by my French visa that started 8 days later, it's a miracle he let me through immigration.


MYTH #9

What's the worst that can happen? You can just return through a different Schengen country the next time.

TRUTH: There are two bad things that can really happen. One, you can be fined and have to pay thousands of dollars/euros to be on your way. Two, you can be excluded from the Schengen zone for any stated amount of time, but the usual punishment is about five years. Both of these situations usually combine with extra hours of interrogation in airports or immigration offices. Neither of these possibilities are really worth the risk unless you have too much money and time to toss around. In that case, can I work for you?


Experience: I "know people" who have gotten away with this. I also know people who have not. It's stressful and totally per chance to get away with anything like this, and I REALLY do not recommend it!!!


MYTH #10

Americans can live and work anywhere in the world they want to because everyone thinks we're awesome.

TRUTH: LOL. If you think this, I am concerned about what kind of impression you will make abroad and do not advise you ever enter the Schengen zone, anyway.



The best and only way to guarantee success in the Schengen is to keep it simple. It's 90 days in the zone within 180 days.

That means you could actually live visa-free if you had two homes that you could switch between every 90 days. A location-independent job online would also be extremely helpful in this theoretical situation.

If you want to do a 6-month trip to Europe, plan for 3 of those months to be in the non-Schengen countries. The United Kingdom allows Americans to travel within its borders for a full 6 months, so it is easy to just spend half of that vacation in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

You can be in Europe for 60 days, say October and November, go outside of the Schengen for December, January, and February (90 days), and return for 30 more days in March. This is a total of 180 days, and you've spent 90 of them in the Schengen and 90 outside.

Yes, it is true that you can sometimes get away with overstaying the 90-day period, working without visas, and passing through border control or customs without getting caught. I know because I have done it.

But it only takes one unhappy passport check person to ruin your passport/travel/work allowances. I will never make the same mistakes again. I hope you take care and can make your trip or life in the Schengen legal and awesome!

If you have more questions about ideas on how to acquire visas to live and work abroad, access my free eBook: 8 Steps to Move Abroad Now below.

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