Why We Have to Leave Europe (in a Month)

We have to leave Europe by October 14, and we can’t come back until November 21. It’s sad.

Some folks back home are confused by this, so at their suggestion I thought I would explain what the deal is. Even though I lived in Spain for two years, I never knew about this, so hopefully it will help others who may want to spend a good length of time in Europe. Here we go:

There is a treaty called the Schengen Agreement. It allows for free travel amongst all the EU countries except the UK and Ireland (which opted out of the Agreement), as well as non-EU countries Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland. If you are American or Canadian, among other nationalities, you can stay in the Schengen countries for up to 90 days in a 180-day period without a visa when traveling for business or tourism. And actually, none of this technically applies to Pierre, because he has a French passport and could stay here forever if he wanted. Jerk.

Anyway, what a lot of people don’t know, and what we didn’t know until a very friendly and helpful Swiss border policeman explained it to us, is that the 90 days are not necessarily continuous; rather, the clock starts running when you enter your first Schengen state, and even if you leave and come back a few weeks later, you don’t get 90 more days to play with. (As an aside, I now realize I was totally confused when I was living in Spain and thought all I had to do to stay legal was briefly leave the country every three months and then come back…oops.)

So in our case, we started racking up our days when we got to Iceland in mid-May. Every day we spent/are spending in Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Spain, and France counts toward our 90-day maximum. That we spent a few weeks in Croatia in June, or that we left for Africa for six weeks and then came back to Europe, doesn’t matter. We will have spent a total of 90 days within a 180-day period in Schengen states on October 14, so that’s when we have to leave (though we will actually leave a week earlier and go to Turkey, so there!).

The friendly Swiss border guy let us snap a picture of his computer screen, showing our expiration date. Somehow I can't imagine a U.S. border guy doing the same thing...

The friendly Swiss border guy let us snap a picture of his computer screen, showing our expiration date. Somehow I can't imagine a U.S. border agent doing the same thing...

Happily, a new 180-day window opens up for us on November 21; i.e., 181 days after we set foot in Iceland back in May. That means we could theoretically go back to Schengen countries on that day and stay for another 90 days between November 21 and May 2012.

Still confused? Check out the U.S. State Department page about the subject.

1 Comment

  1. Ed
    September 16, 2011

    I see…the point is that the clock does not reset when you leave. But it does stop until you return. That’s why the clock resets in November and you have a rather small window between when you have to leave and then. Got it. I think…


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