We’re Ryan and Kirsty and we have been travelling full time in our motorhome with our dog, Lottie, for the past 18 months now. In that time we’ve covered over 25 countries and have seen some of the very best of what the UK and Europe have to offer.
As we’ve roamed around the UK and Europe in our beloved motorhome, one rule has remained a constant subject of our discussions and planning – the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone. It’s like an intricate puzzle we’ve got to crack, but fear not! We’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge on how to navigate this rule and we’re here to share it with you.
The Schengen zone, a collection of 27 European countries, has a common rule for non-residents. You’re allowed to stay for only 90 days within a 180-day period. For some of us, that’s just not enough! In this article, we’ll cover how you can legally navigate this rule, spending more time enjoying European landscapes from the comfort of your campervan.
Understanding the 90 Day Rule
To properly understand the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone, it’s vital to comprehend what it implies. The rule is a cornerstone of the Schengen Agreement, designed to regulate the flow of non-EU nationals within the area. The rule only became applicable to residents of the UK since Brexit. The ‘Schengen clock’ starts ticking from the moment you step into any Schengen country.
When you enter the Schengen zone, a stamp with the date is placed in your passport. From that date, you have 90 days to travel within the zone. The 90 days do not have to be consecutive; they are counted within a 180-day period. For example, if you spend 30 days in one Schengen country, leave for a few days, and then return to a different Schengen country, the clock keeps ticking. Even the day you leave counts as a day in the Schengen zone.
However, here’s where it can get a little tricky. The 180-day window isn’t fixed; it’s a rolling window. It moves along with your travels. To simplify, if you’ve stayed 90 days straight in the Schengen zone, you’ll need to leave for 90 days. But if you spread your 90 days over the 180 days, the calculation of when you can return gets a bit more complex.
Keeping a close eye on your travel dates is crucial to avoiding overstays. Overstaying can lead to potential complications such as fines, deportation, and even bans from re-entering the Schengen zone.
Fortunately, tools are available online to calculate your days in the Schengen zone. Use them to keep track of your travel days and ensure you’re following the rules. It’s important to remember that every entry and exit from the Schengen zone should be documented with passport stamps.
You can find a Schengen calculator to help you work out your stay in Europe here – Schengen Calculator – Calculate Your Legal Short-Stay in Europe
By thoroughly understanding the intricacies of the 90-day rule, you can plan your European campervan adventures more effectively. Remember, the aim is to respect the regulations while still immersing ourselves in the rich tapestry of cultures that Europe has to offer.
Which countries are in the Schengen Zone?
- Czech Republic
It’s important to note that while these countries are part of the Schengen Agreement and follow the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone, they each maintain their own national visa policies. So, it’s always a good idea to check the specific requirements of a country before you plan your visit.
Exploring Non-Schengen Countries
One of the most exciting, not to mention legal, ways to extend your European adventure beyond the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone is to visit non-Schengen countries. There’s a good number of them in Europe, each offering unique cultures, landscapes, and experiences.
We have used this method of travel ourselves, choosing to spend 90 days travelling in Romania and Croatia before being able to enter back into the Schengen Zone, and we absolutely loved travelling both of these countries, they both had so much to offer.
The UK and Ireland, for example, are two countries that are part of Europe but are outside the Schengen zone. They have their own rules for visitor stays, usually allowing for a visit of up to six months.
Eastern Europe also presents a rich palette of non-Schengen destinations. Serbia, with its buzzing cities, stunning monasteries, and dramatic mountains, is a place you can visit without eating into your Schengen days. The same goes for Montenegro, a tiny country with outsize charm, thanks to its beautiful Adriatic coastline and rugged highlands.
Romania and Bulgaria, while EU members, are also outside the Schengen zone. They boast a blend of nature, history, and vibrant local culture that can provide a fresh perspective in your European journey.
Your stay in these countries doesn’t count towards your Schengen limit, allowing you to reset the “Schengen clock”. That said, each of these countries has its own visa rules, so be sure to check them out before you set your campervan in that direction.
In essence, exploring non-Schengen countries presents a golden opportunity to add variety and duration to your European campervan adventure, all while respecting the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone. It’s a win-win situation!
Which countries are not in the Schengen Zone?
- United Kingdom
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- North Macedonia
- Turkey (partially in Europe)
- Azerbaijan (partially in Europe)
Each of these countries have their own immigration policies and visa requirements. If you plan to visit any of these, make sure you understand their specific rules and regulations before you set off in your campervan.
The Long-Stay Visa Route
Sometimes, the lure of the Schengen zone is simply too strong to resist. If you’re smitten with the Mediterranean sunsets, the Nordic fjords, or the quaint villages dotted across Central Europe, then the 90-day limit may seem rather restrictive. But don’t fret! There’s a route that could enable you to stay beyond the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone: the long-stay visa.
A long-stay visa, often referred to as a ‘national visa’ or ‘type D’ visa, is offered by several Schengen countries. This visa allows you to stay in the issuing country for a period longer than 90 days. Typically, a long-stay visa is valid for a period of a year, but it can be extended.
France, for example, offers a long-stay visitor visa that allows you to stay in the country for up to a year. Germany also offers a similar long-stay visa. Spain, on the other hand, provides a non-lucrative visa for those who wish to stay in the country without engaging in any professional activity.
While obtaining a long-stay visa is a fantastic way to bypass the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone, it’s important to note that it requires a certain level of commitment. You’ll need to fulfill several requirements, such as providing proof of financial stability, obtaining health insurance, and potentially showing evidence of accommodation. Furthermore, the application process can take several months and usually requires that you apply from your home country.
So, if you’ve got a particular Schengen country that has stolen your heart and you wish to make it a base for your European explorations, the long-stay visa route might just be your perfect solution. It requires a bit of planning and paperwork, but the reward is the chance to truly immerse yourself in a European country of your choice.
Balancing Between Schengen and Non-Schengen Countries
Another clever strategy to extend your European campervan journey while respecting the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone involves a well-thought-out balance between Schengen and non-Schengen countries. It’s about alternating your time in a way that lets you explore the diversity of Europe while staying within the legal limits of the 90-day rule.
If you’re not looking to stay in one particular country for a long time, or don’t want the commitment of having to go through the process of getting a long stay visa, then really this is your only option for staying in Europe for longer than 90 days, and this is the option that we use ourselves.
Consider this. You start your journey by spending 90 days in Schengen countries, immersing yourself in the varied cultures, languages, and landscapes they offer. Following the rule, once your 90 days are up, instead of returning home, you move on to a non-Schengen country like Ireland or any of the Eastern European countries mentioned earlier.
You can spend the next 90 days or even more (depending on that country’s specific visa rules) exploring these non-Schengen lands. You’d be surprised at how these countries, despite their geographic proximity, offer such distinctly different experiences compared to their Schengen neighbours.
When your stay in the non-Schengen area is complete, your 180-day Schengen period would have reset, allowing you to reenter the Schengen zone for another 90 days. This cycle can continue, enabling you to live your European road trip dream in your motorhome for extended periods.
This strategy does require a bit of planning, as you’ll need to keep track of your days and be aware of the individual visa policies of the non-Schengen countries you plan to visit. But it allows you a way to stay on the move, see new sights, and continue your adventure all while abiding by the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone.
In essence, balancing your time between Schengen and non-Schengen countries is a practical and legal way to enjoy the beauty and diversity of Europe at a leisurely pace. It lets you make the most of your campervan adventures while respecting international travel rules.
Navigating the 90 day rule in the Schengen zone can feel like an adventurous quest. With a bit of planning, it’s entirely possible to extend your European motorhome journey. Explore the non-Schengen countries, consider a long-stay visa or balance your travels. Remember, every day in our motorhome is a gift, so let’s enjoy it to the fullest, legally.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the 90-day rule in the Schengen zone?
The 90-day rule allows non-EU citizens to stay in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
Which countries are in the Schengen zone?
The Schengen zone includes 26 countries, mostly in Europe. They have been listed above in this post.
How can I extend my stay in the Schengen zone?
You can extend your stay by applying for a long-stay visa in certain Schengen countries.
What happens if I overstay in the Schengen zone?
Overstaying can result in fines, deportation, and even a ban from entering Schengen countries.
Are there non-Schengen countries in Europe?
Yes, countries like the UK, Ireland, and some Eastern European countries are not part of the Schengen zone.
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I love everything about travel, from seeing new places, learning about new cultures and trying new foods! I believe that travel is one of the best forms of education you can get, I have learnt so much about myself and about the world from travelling all over. Travel is something I feel so passionately about, and I love the fact that we are now lucky enough to have this opportunity to do what we love as much as we can, it’s a dream come true.
Before we started travelling, I worked in local government in administration. I had been in this job for several years and had reached a complete brick wall where I was so fed up, but didn’t know what else to do. The only thing I knew that I wanted to do was to travel, and had wanted to do that for many years.
There were hundreds and hundreds of places on my wishlist that I wanted to go to, and I knew that going on a weeks holiday maybe twice a year if we were lucky wasn’t going to cut it.
After being in lockdown due to the Covid pandemic, and working from home staring at the same 4 walls every day, 2021 seemed like the perfect time for us to take the risk to finally do what we had dreamed of for so long.
It was a hard decision to completely change our lives, but so far it has been the best decision we have ever made!