Many of our travelers contact us trying to navigate the visa rules for Europe, most are interested in staying in Europe for more than 90 days. To answer this question, we need to start by defining the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area is comprised of 26 European countries that have a shared, common visa policy. The Schengen area consists of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Switzerland. Tourist or business travelers traveling to ANY of the countries are subject to one single visa policy.
US citizens can stay in the Schengen area for no more than 90 days in a 180 day period. The clock starts the first day that you enter the Schengen area and the clock resets 180 days from day 1 (on the 181st day). It is NOT TRUE that you can reset the clock by leaving the Schengen area; a side trip to Asia, or back to the US does not solve your problem, and will not reset the 180 day clock. Non US passport holders may be required to obtain a Schengen visa prior to travel. You can read more about Schengen visas on our Schengen visa information page.
Swift has seem many cases where US citizens have stayed more than 90 days in a 180 day period without running into problems. Our travelers have noted that customs agents frequently do not take the time to go through all of the stamps in your passport and tally up the number of days you have been in Europe. That being said, Swift does not suggest relying on customs agents, not noticing unless you are familiar with the consequences. Keep in mind too, that just because you left the Schengen area unnoticed after 91+ days, doesn’t guarantee that a customs agent will not notice next time you come back to the Schengen area.
The first consequence of staying over 90 days in a 180 day period is typically a fine. Greece, Germany and Switzerland have been reported to be more strict about the 90 day day policy compared to other countries. One traveler reported to have been fined 700 EUR by the Greece embassy for staying in Greece for 110 days in a 180 day period. If he didn’t pay the fine, the alternative would be to be banned from entering Greece for 5 years! Deportation is another risk; you could be sent straight back to your home country.
The outcome of staying in the Schengen area for more than 90 days depends greatly on the immigration officer that will check your passport when you try to leave or re-enter Europe after you have overstayed. Americans probably face fewer consequences when it comes to overstaying compared to non US passport holders. While overstaying can certainly happen due to unforeseen circumstances, it really is not a good idea to try to illegally do this under the radar on purpose. Our countries have visa policies in place, and abiding by the the law is the best way to ensure that you are doing your part to keep travel restrictions to a minimum.
Laurie Lee is co-founder and CEO of Swift Passport and Visa Services. A Chicago native, Laurie loves adventure travel, especially to the Caribbean. She enjoys writing for the Swift Post, as well as for her personal blog, Spare Parts- www.sparebodyparts.com.