As our U.S. travels near completion our attention is increasingly drawn overseas. One of the things we’re not looking forward to about international travel is the need to jump through hoops to comply with various world visa restrictions. It’s an entirely absurd complication. We understand that sovereign nations don’t want hordes of foreigners flooding across their borders and stealing their women, um, jobs or – worse yet – living large off generous social safety net programs. What we can’t understand is why people like us who foreswear the right to work locally or receive any foreign benefits aren’t welcomed with open arms. All we want to do is visit your country, eat in your restaurants, patronize your shops, and sleep
with your women in your hotels. Said another way, all we want to do is to import money into your nation’s economy. Keeping us out, or limiting our stay, makes absolutely no sense. We should say at the outset that we understand “Fortress America” to be one of the world’s worst offenders in this regard, although as U.S. citizens it hasn’t impacted us directly.
That will all change when we head off to Europe. There we’ll be allowed to stay a total of just 90 days. And unlike many places where you can reset the clock on your visa by simply stepping over a border, a large number of European governments require you to leave for another full 90 days before you are eligible to return. We could certainly make that work if each European country gave you three months to explore its riches, but they don’t. Because of something known as the Schengen Agreement that 90 day limit applies collectively to 27 European nations. If you spend your 90 days whiling away the winter on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, you can forget about spending springtime in Paris, or Germany, or Denmark, or just about anywhere that most folks associate with Europe.
To put those 90 days into perspective, it will take us sixteen times as long to finish touring the United States. While it’s true that the U.S. is about twice as large geographically, Europe has far more tourist attraction density. So much, in fact, it inspired an earlier tongue-in-cheek post titled Why France is better than Texas.
“Long ago, on our very first trip overseas, we spent two weeks in France; moving from Paris, to Burgundy to the Loire Valley. I left that trip convinced I could spend another two years traveling the country without ever needing to visit the same place twice. There’s Normandy in the North, the Rivera in the South, Bordeaux in the West and Strasbourg in the East. Normally that would be enough for any area to claim tourism bragging rights, but in the middle of all that greatness France layers in castles, quaint towns, beautiful cities, historic vineyards, and majestic mountains. The diversity of the country is overwhelming.”
Two years, just in France! Even if we hurry we might still need a decade of continuous exploration to get through the 27 member Schengen area. 90 days isn’t nearly enough time.
What we’ll likely do is follow our favorite unconventional travel wisdom (Spontaneity is Overrated) and methodically plan a route that has us bouncing among Schengen members and non-members (90 days in Spain, Portugal and France; leave Schengen for the UK and Ireland; come back for 90 days in Germany, Czech Republic and Poland; out again to Ukraine and Russia; back to Hungary, Austria and Switzerland, etc.) Doable, but unnecessarily annoying.
There is hope, though. It’s possible that Europe’s economic realities may slowly be driving home a patently obvious observation: foreigners and their money are actually good for local economies. Because opening borders is such an easy and entirely sensible strategy, those doors may finally be opening, if only a crack.
Last week The New York Times reported that Spain may implement a policy of granting residency to non-EU nationals who purchase a house in the country valued at €160,000 ($205,000) or more. This follows similar programs in Ireland (€400,000 minimum home purchase), Portugal (€500,000), and Latvia (€70,000), all of which are hoping foreigners will help them recover from their housing bubble hangovers.
The Spanish program is notable for how much lower it set the minimum purchase price compared to its western European rivals, Ireland and Portugal. We note that Spain’s USD 205,000 threshold is within striking distance of the median U.S. home price. While the reported intention is to lure Russian and Chinese oligarchs, Spain’s far more modest requirements could attract middle and upper-middle income American retirees who soon may be able to swap their existing Floridian pad for a Spanish one.
We can only hope that Spain’s entry into this arena is just the beginning of a competitive race to the bottom where an increasing number of countries vie for traveler dollars with ever cheaper inducements. We’re certainly open to that kind of bidding war for our affection, time, and money – we have Spain at €160,000 do I hear €80,000?
With any luck someone will finally figure out that it’s in their country’s best interest to let travelers like us stay as long as we can demonstrate our own self sufficiency. It’s true we won’t import British made Bentley’s or Russian caviar the way the more highly sought after tycoons might. No, unlike them all of our spending will go right into the local economy – to shops and inns and pubs and transportation and attractions. Oh, and to pay Europe’s Value Added Tax, too.
Do I hear zero euros?