So many of my friends and readers have asked me this question over the years: how have you managed to stay in Europe for so long? How hard is it to get a visa, or to travel from one country to another? 

Jetting off to Europe, exploring every nook and corner of cities regularly pictured in romantic movies, sipping wine on a terrace while admiring the view of the medieval square. Yes, along-term vacation to Europe sounds quite dreamy, but there are a few rules to follow when it comes to staying in Europe legally and avoiding trouble at the border. This work makes the service TripAdvisor

The post is mostly aimed at Canadians, Australians and Americans, as the visa policies are quite resembling when it comes to European territory.

Europe Without a Visa — Understanding the Schengen Area

The most crucial notion to keep in mind when organizing a European vacation is the Schengen area. It’s important to know that the European Union, the Euro Zone, and the Schengen area, while similar in many ways, are quite different in reality.The two former items are economic and political areas, the latter is geographical. The area currently covers a population of over 400 million people and an area of 4,312,099 square kilometers (in other words, enough to keep you busy for a little while!).

The Schengen area is comprised of 26 European countries that have abolished border control in-between their common border, functioning as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. 

The general rule, for both Americans and Canadians, is a maximum stay of 90 days in any 180-day period.

There are basically two options at this point:

  • Consecutive stay: Allows for 90 consecutive days within the Schengen area, during which visitors are free to move around as much as they want so long as they leave immediately once their 90 days are up – at which point they will have to wait another consecutive 90-day period to re-enter the area.
  • Non-consecutive stay: Allows for 90 non-consecutive days within the Schengen area, during which visitors are free to enter and exit the area as much as they want so long as long as they don’t exceed a total of 90 days over a period of 180 days from the first date of entry. Visitors opting for this scenario will not have to wait to re-enter the zone once their initial 180-day period is up.

For these two scenarios, it is very important to understand that the clock doesn’t start back every time you re-enter the zone within that same 90-day period. It only starts back 180 days after your first entry.