Subverting Schengen

Louvre at night, Paris

Thanks for spending springtime in Paris. Now get the hell out!

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.

Schengen Visa Area Map

The Schengen visa area (light blue) covers much of Europe.

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?

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34 Comments on “Subverting Schengen”

  1. John November 26, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I have never heard of this Schengen agreement. What a load of poo. A great way to say just go away! Thanks for the education! :)

    • Brian November 26, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      It is “a load of poo.” But to be fair, it’s no different than someone coming to the U.S. They don’t get a new visa by crossing the NY/NJ border. The idea behind the Schengen Area is similar to what we do here.

      • John November 26, 2012 at 10:33 am #

        But a bit more restrictive… enjoying following your travels!

  2. digger666 November 26, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666 and commented:
    Shannon and Brian plan to bring their excellent everywhereonce.com series this side of the Atlantic and are plotting the easiest way to do that. No mean task, apparently.

  3. adventurousandrea November 26, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    It’s so lovely!

  4. Anyes - Far Away in the Sunshine November 26, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    Looking forward to what you will share with us :-)

  5. nancieteresa November 26, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    I recently returned to the States from being in Europe. Here is a loophole posted by Nomadic Matt about staying longer then 90 days in Europe. I didn’t do it myself, but it’s an interesting idea:

    From http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/how-to-legally-stay-in-europe-for-more-than-90-days/ “Luckily, you have one fabulous loophole to keep you in the Schengen zone past 90 days. It is by far the best loophole/hack out there.

    All you need to do is enter France (Schengen zone) via the Chunnel (train service) from England. England doesn’t issue exit stamps (so there’s no outbound immigration) and France does not have entry stamps in the Chunnel. So technically there is never any proof of when you entered the Schengen zone. All you have is the entry stamp you got when you flew into England. (When you enter England, you’ll need to show proof you are leaving – I would simply buy a cheap flight exiting the country.) Since England gives allows you to stay for 180 days and Schengen gives you 90 days, in theory you could stay in the Schengen zone for 270 days, telling the immigration officer you left England on the 180th day (180 + 90 = 270). There’s no proof you didn’t do that. And by coming through the Chunnel, it is impossible for you to even have an entry stamp into France. (The reverse does not work. When you leave France, you will get an exit stamp and receive an entry stamp from England.) This method gets you into the Schengen zone without a dated entry stamp.

    • Brian November 26, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      Thanks for posting this here, I remember it well from Matt’s site. I also remember thinking that it isn’t really a loophole. A loophole to me is a wrinkle in the law that you can legally exploit to do something. What Matt is suggesting is staying in the country illegally though a means that may allow you to avoid detection. Two very different things, to my mind. And because it involves staying illegally, the success of his strategy rests entirely on the whim of your exit border agent who has the right to demand proof of how long you’ve been in country. The degree of trouble this causes someone whose only answer is “I can’t prove how long I’ve been here” is limited only by the surliness of the border control agent you happen to choose to exit through. Even if it normally works, it is not something that we’ll attempt ourselves or recommend that others try.

      • nancieteresa November 26, 2012 at 11:28 am #

        Got it! Thanks for sharing! Bonne Chance on your journey!

  6. James Timothy Peters November 26, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    I think you two are the coolest people on the planet.

    • Brian November 26, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

      We couldn’t agree more. LOL.

  7. Huw Thomas November 26, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    I’m glad you recognise that the US also doesn’t make life easy for visitors – even from long-term allies/friends/relatives in Britain!
    Just getting a 90-day visa for the States takes work – and your officials are not the most friendly in the world. :(
    Because I wanted to spend 3.5 months cycling across the US, I was required to fill in pages of forms, pay $120 (with no guarantees of a visa), go for an interview at your embassy and be interviewed on my plans, motives etc. I did get the visa but the border guards when we arrived from Canada still made us pay more dollars to enter your country.
    I’m also not sure we want floods of US retirees flooding the Spanish property market. Too many northern Europeans have already done that with the result that much of the Spanish coast has been ruined by over-development. There’s also real problems of water shortages in some areas because of the level of badly planned developments – and the locals are being priced out of buying houses in their own towns.
    Good luck with your travels though. I agree with you about France – been there many times and still only seen a tiny bit of the country.

    • Brian November 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

      We’ve heard horror stories about traveling to, or even through, the U.S. Most of these restrictions are silly and pointless and should be changed.

      On the other point, Spain has a population density about 1/3 of the U.K. – a place that doesn’t seem overly crowded or excessively developed. A little population growth would actually be good for what ails them (economically speaking).

  8. Pit November 26, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    The Schengen Agreement is not quite “a lot of poo” – even if some of its provisions should be changed. Basically, it is a wonderful way for Europeans [citizens of the Schengen area, that is] to travel passport-free in that zone: a considerable improvement to previous times.I really resented to have to show my passport every time I just went on a day trip from Germany to the Netherlands, e.g.
    But I do agree that a 90-day limit on staying in all of the Schengen area is ridiculous. As I consider the 180-day limit for visa-bearing visitors to the US ridiculous.

    • crislooknwalk November 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

      Yes, even if you are not from a Schengen area country (ie. Romania) but you are in EU you can travel with an ID-card only. I’ve been to Greece, UK, Hungary, Austria and Bulgaria all thanks to passport-free traveling and no visa!

    • Brian November 26, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

      Yes. Clearly that comment was directed at the 90 day tourist visa restriction. Nobody disputes the agreement’s benefits for EU citizens.

  9. crislooknwalk November 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    I am so blessed to live in Europe (although not in a Schengen -area country). Since we are part of the EU, though, we can travel and live everywhere we want within the EU.
    Many American friends complained abt visiting Europe on a Schengen Visa but you can always apply for a visa to places like Romania (EU but not Schengen) and enjoy it plus pay cheaper rates :))

    • Brian November 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

      We’re very jealous! And we fully intend to visit Romania, too. ;-)

      • crislooknwalk November 27, 2012 at 4:46 am #

        You do need a visa (separate from the one for Schengen). Let me know if /when you come . I’d love to meet up.

  10. Gunta November 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    I have dual citizenship with US and Latvia, which apparently gives me the benefits you’re seeking, but haven’t quite figured out what to do with the pup if I go for a lengthier stay. What did you two do with the cats while you did So America?

    • Brian November 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

      Unfortunately, both of our cats passed on. If they had not, we either would not have gone to South America or we would have driven the R.V. (or maybe rented a smaller camper van) and taken them with us. If we had Latvian citizenship we’d almost certainly get a van to tour Europe, pets or no.

  11. bridgekeeper November 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    Wow, I have never thought of Schengen as something bad before. Being European is great indeed. Anyway if as a German I go to the States I am facing the same problem. The hopping in and out of Schengen shouldn’t be too hard to do at any rate. Lots of suggestions are here in your post or in the comments already, I’d just like to point out the Balkans specifically (since they are not really on that map you got in the post). I traveled the former Yugoslavia and the adjacent countries for 5 months, so you got several 90 day periods right there :) Bosnia and Hercegovina is, in my humble opinion, one of the loveliest and most underrated places in the world.

    • Brian November 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

      The Balkans certainly play a roll. In fact, if I were to continue my Schengen hopping example from the main text I’d probably turn back from Switzerland and hit Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia. When done with them maybe a boat over to Italy, possibly for the full 90 days, before boating back to Montenegro, etc.

      Obviously doable, and much more so than someone trying to do the same thing while visiting the U.S. :-(

      • bridgekeeper November 27, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

        Don’t miss out on Albania while you’re there. Beautiful country, and sooooo worth seeing soon before turbo-capitalism will have hit. Enjoy it, and let me know if you need any advice on Eastern Europe!

  12. earthriderjudyberman November 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Very informative post. We plan to visit Paris again next year. Unfortunately, we will only be able to stay about a week – between Paris and London. (That restriction is the result of our jobs and affordability.) Hope you get to see all that you want, Brian and Shannon.

  13. love.antoinette November 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Good thing I read this post! I didn’t even know about this Schengen law; and here I was planning to live out my days in Paris!

  14. denisediscovers November 27, 2012 at 2:04 am #

    I sympathise with you about the Schengen requirements, because I would be in the same situation if I wanted to go to Europe for an extended period of time. Another thing about going to Europe, I would choose to fly via Singapore or Hong Kong rather than Los Angeles, because of the US requirements for transit passengers. Even transit passengers who are not entering the US have to apply for a visa or visa waiver before their departure. I have heard from people who’ve flown via LA to Europe that the processing of transit passengers is so slow at LAX, they haven’t been able to buy a coffee, or look at the duty-free. The US economy must be doing ok, no?

  15. Debra Kolkka November 27, 2012 at 4:55 am #

    I regularly go to Italy for more than 90 days. To do this I get a visa here in Australia, I have to show a return ticket, proof that I have enough money to live on, travel insurance and an address where I will be staying for the bulk of my time there. I then have to apply for a Permesso di Soggiorno when I arrive in Italy within 8 days of arriving in Italy.
    The process requires jumping through a few hoops, but it does allow me to travel in the Schengen countries for more than 90 days at a time.
    The visa usually lasts for 1 year and allows multiple entries. The Permesso usually lasts for 2 years, although my last one was only valid for 1 year, which means I have to start the process again soon.
    Try going to the Italian or Spanish consulate to find out where you stand.
    We have a house in Italy, but that offers us no rights at all.

  16. devin howard November 27, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    Its interesting that economic pressures are subverting in some ways the traditionally nationalistic impulses of nations. Its also interesting to see nations in Europe take proactive, and, I’d argue, largely positive steps like lowering the barriers to entry for certain groups while the US appears to be backsliding into a quagmire of security state, isolationist policies. Anyway, very informative, cool!

  17. Shiv November 27, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I just wanted to say that I have had some serious problems in Europe, although I went through all the procedures necessary to get a Schengen visa and I also walk with additional documents like my financial records etc. I’ve had to enter Finland three times and each time it’s humiliating. The last time was after a trip to St. Petersburg. I was detained and shouted at in a back room and not allowed to make a phone call to let someone know they were keeping me. I’ve written an account of what has happened and hopefully it will be published soon. I’ve tried to file a complaint but I’ve been told it’s standard procedure because I’m from a third world country. I respect the immigration laws of all countries but the treatment I’ve been getting in Europe is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I really hope you have no problems like I’ve had.

  18. Goofy November 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    This is really interesting. I had always thought of the Schengen Agreement as a friendly way to reduce the amount of times I have to go through customs and cheat me out of passport stamps. I never realized its impact on longterm travel. Thanks for the post.

  19. hermitsdoor November 30, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    From our one trip to Spain, we discovered that every small village has at least one shop where you purchase your food mid-day before it, and the rest of the village, puts up their feet to rest during the heat of the day. Also, caravanning (aka RV’s) are big there with the Brits.
    For another destination, we recently returned from South Africa. HUGE place with caravanning in many of the National Parks (aka places with HUGE animals). I thought of you two when we saw the RV’s driving about Kruger. Internet access is spotty there on the local WiFi (pronounced We Fe).
    Oscar

  20. danielcmalloy August 15, 2013 at 2:28 am #

    I have not traveled in Europe, but I want to and the Schegen is one of the reasons I hesitate, besides the high cost. When people compare the Schegen to the USA they are comparing apples and oranges. The USA is ONE country and has been for 200 years, the EU is just that a union with many different cultures, laws, languages. The EU could easily give waivers for US citizens, but why do that, I mean the US has never helped or made allowances for the EU before, right? As an American I am tired of listening to the EU knock the US and all the while drinking from our well.

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  1. 5 Things we learned researching our European trip | Everywhere Once - March 17, 2014

    […] other thing we know is that we’re limited to 90 days in any and all Schengen area countries. After that we’ll need to exit the visa area, which encompasses most of […]

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