How to stay in the Schengen zone for longer than 90 days (legally!)

Eleea Navarro

By Eleea Navarro
25 May 2019

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When you’re busy living your best life in Europe, you really don’t want something as annoying as a visa to cut your trip short. While many travellers I met had considered overstaying their Schengen visa to keep their Eurotrip going, there are actually many legal ways to explore your favourite countries without risking deportation, legal action or massive fines.

Before reading this post, make sure you have a solid understanding of the Schengen zone - if you need a reminder, check out this post: Schengen zone simplified - All your questions answered!. Once you’ve got that under control, you can start to look at neighbouring countries outside of the Schengen zone that are worth spending time in, as well as making use of bilateral visa waiver agreements or working visas. Let’s get started!

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I want to explore outside of the Schengen zone. What are some popular countries to visit?

There are plenty of countries worth exploring that are outside of the Schengen zone, but bear in mind that each country has its own entry and visa requirements. Eastern Europe is rapidly growing in popularity and is known to be a lot more budget friendly than the rest of Europe, so many travellers are heading to Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine for a different experience.

You can also head to the United Kingdom for 6 months visa free, which means you can visit England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (things may change there once Brexit kicks in though), and the British islands like Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man. At the moment, Ireland is also not included in the Schengen zone, so use your 90 days of visa-free travel to explore the beautiful Irish countryside. Northern Africa is also close by, with many travellers heading down to check out Egypt, Morocco or Turkey. The options are limitless!

I want to stay in the Schengen zone longer than 90 days. What is a bilateral visa waiver agreement?

I won’t bore you with the details and history of bilateral visa waiver agreements, but basically these agreements allow different passport holders to stay in certain countries without impacting on their 90 day Schengen visa. The agreement differs from country to country, but most of them allow for a further 90 days in one particular country, which essentially means you can continue to stay in Europe for as long as you like, considering your Schengen visa resets after 180 days!

Bilateral agreements are something that most travellers don’t know about or take advantage of, but it can be a great way to legally extend your Eurotrip. There are some catches, such as most of these agreements require you to stay in one country for the entirety of the bilateral visa (usually 90 days), and in most cases you can only use your bilateral agreement visa waiver after exhausting your 90 day Schengen visa. Making use of these agreements also requires some forward planning, research and communication with the country’s embassy before you leave for your trip, but could definitely be worth it if your intention is to travel for as long as possible. A useful starting point for your research is the Smart Traveller website.

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What do I need to do before I leave if I want to use a bilateral visa waiver agreement to extend my trip?

Firstly, have a rough itinerary worked out before leaving for your Eurotrip. This doesn’t mean that you need a strict schedule that will restrict your flexibility, but at least know how long you’ll likely be spending in the Schengen zone and roughly when your 90 days will expire, and decide on which country you’d like to stay in to make use of their bilateral visa waiver agreement. Research your chosen country’s visa requirements and contact relevant embassies in your home country, spelling out your plans for how long you want to remain in their country and asking for written confirmation of the visa details. When they respond, keep a digital and hard-copy with you at all times during your trip.

How can officials tell I’ve used a bilateral visa waiver agreement when my passport hasn’t been stamped?

While the process is complicated and unique to each country, the short answer is that it’s up to you to keep track of your entry and exit dates and have proof that you’ve been in that country legally under the bilateral agreement. When entering or exiting a country with the intention to use a bilateral visa waiver agreement, it’s recommended that you use a train, bus or plane to arrive and depart, so the receipt from your ticket can act as proof of the dates you entered or exited. Once in the country, keep track of receipts for things like accommodation and activities (even just on your bank or credit card statement, but physical receipts are better), to prove that you’ve consistently been in that country. Basically, it needs to be obvious to officials that you spent the entirety of your time in your chosen country, or you could be suspected of overstaying your Schengen visa.

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What are some bilateral agreements I can use?

Here is a quick overview of the bilateral agreements in place with some Schengen countries, but remember this is just a broad overview that is mainly tailored towards Australians and New Zealanders. I’m not a qualified immigration expert and this should not be interpreted as actual legal advice on visas. Visas and entry conditions are very complicated and can change at any time, so always be safe and check your country’s visa requirements yourself for the latest advice.

Austria - 90 days. You must use your 90 day Schengen visa in other countries first, exit the Schengen zone, then re-enter directly to Austria to begin your 90 day bilateral visa waiver agreement.

Belgium - 60 days, after using your 90 day Schengen visa in other countries.

Denmark - 90 days, regardless of time spent in other Schengen countries.

Finland - 90 days, regardless of time spent in other Schengen countries.

France - if you enter France after you’ve already started travelling on your Schengen visa in other countries, then you only get the remaining days of your Schengen visa to spend in France (for example, if you spend 30 days in other Schengen countries, then go to France, then you will only have a further 60 days). However, if you arrive in France from a non-Schengen country then you will be granted a 90 day bilateral visa waiver agreement that doesn’t impact on the 90 day Schengen visa you can use in other countries.

Germany - 90 days, regardless of time spent in other Schengen countries.

Holland - 90 days, but in order to return to Holland after using up your 90 day Schengen visa, you need to leave the Schengen area for a minimal period first (for example, by traveling to the UK or any other country outside the Schengen area). Once this has been used, you can’t return for 180 days.

Iceland - 90 days, regardless of time spent in other Schengen countries.

Italy - 90 days, regardless of time spent in other Schengen countries.

Norway - 90 days visa free in Norway in addition to any days spent in a non-Nordic Schengen country, and can be continuous or broken up over multiple visits.

Spain - 90 days, regardless of time spent in other Schengen countries.

Sweden - 90 days after using your 90 day Schengen visa, as long as you have not visited Sweden during that previous 90 days while traveling on your Schengen visa.

Switzerland - 90 days, regardless of time spent in other Schengen countries.

I want to work or study in a country. Can I do that with a Schengen visa or bilateral visa waiver agreement?

The short answer is no. If you’d like to work or study, or even just stay in one country for longer than 90-180 days, then it may be worth applying for a specific visa that fits your needs. To get the ball rolling, contact you chosen country’s embassy before you leave for your trip, making sure that you leave plenty of time for this process to be approved before your departure date.

Happy travels and keep chasing adventure!