As I’ve been planning my move to Sweden, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get past the 90-day limit placed on tourist visas. This is a problem encountered by travelers every year and a question that regularly pops up in my inbox.
“How can I stay in Europe for more than 90 days?” I’m asked.
It’s a great question with a very complicated answer. I’ve always known it’s difficult, but until I started researching on how to stay there, I never knew how difficult. But in the process of this research, I’ve come to learn there are a few ways to stay in Europe longer than 90 days, they just aren’t well known.
First, it’s important to note that Europe isn’t a monolithic area—there are varying visa rules throughout the continent—but when people talk about the “90-day limit,” they’re talking about restrictions on the Schengen visa, which is the visa rule that governs 26 countries in Europe. It includes all of the European Union except Ireland and the United Kingdom as well as a few non-EU countries.
What is the Schengen Visa?
The Schengen visa is a 90-day tourist visa for Schengen Area countries that include:
These countries have a border-free visa agreement that lets residents move throughout the Area without needing a passport. Essentially, it’s as if they’re one country, and you can move as freely as you want. Residents of the UK and Ireland are still allowed limitless entry. For non-Schengen citizens, you’re allowed entry into the Area for 90 days within any 180-day period. These days don’t need to be consecutive—the total is cumulative. Once day 181 hits, the count resets itself.
Citizens of most countries are allowed to enter the Schengen area without having to get a visa beforehand. Your passport simply gets stamped upon your arrival and departure from Europe. You’re allowed to enter and leave from any country you want—they don’t have to be the same. I fly in and out of different countries all the time. Once you’re in, your 90-day counter starts.
However, not all travelers are allowed such freedom. Citizens from many countries need to apply for a Schengen visa ahead of time. You’ll be required to fill out paperwork beforehand and fly in and out of the country for which your visa is issued. (Even then, you still might not be granted a visa.)
You can find the specific rules regarding your country at the European Commission website. (Spoiler alert: citizens from African and Asian countries get screwed.)
Staying in Europe—The Easy Way
With so many visa rules, it’s easy to stay in Europe beyond 90 days as a tourist—you just need to mix up the countries you visit. The United Kingdom has its own rules that allow you to stay 180 days. Most non-Schengen countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, Croatia, Ireland, and some Balkan countries allow you to stay for up to 60 or 90 days. So all you need to do is spend 90 days in the Schengen Area, visit the U.K., go to the Balkans, hang out in Ukraine, or drink wine in Moldova. If you align your schedule right, you can easily be out of the Area for 90 days and then head back in the Schengen Area.
That’s the easy way to stay for more than 90 days. Just vary your location. I spent three months in Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and England as I waited for my clock to reset and then headed back into Germany for Oktoberfest.
PS – Continue planning your trip to Europe with my continent-wide Europe travel guide. I go every summer and can get you where you need to go. (Or keep reading if you need more Schengen help!)
Can You Stay in Schengen Longer Than 90 Days?
When most people ask me about staying in Europe, they mean staying longer in the Schengen Area. After all, it covers 26 countries, and visiting so many destinations in 90 days can be a little rushed (that would be an average of 3.4 days per country).
If you want more time in the Area to travel, live, learn a language, or fall in love, then the “move around” option isn’t going to work for you. You need something else. Luckily, there are a few ways to do this—and I can’t stress the importance of the word “few.” Staying more than 90 days in the Schengen Area isn’t easy.
The Schengen law states that you can’t stay in the area more than 90 days. If you do, you’re subject to a fine and deportation. How that rule is enforced, though, varies greatly from one country to another. If you overstay by a few days or even a week, you’ll probably be OK. If you overstay longer, you might have problems.
For example, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, and Scandinavian countries are all very strict about entry and exit. If you overstay your visit by longer than a week, there’s a good chance they’ll pull you aside. Two Australians I know were detained leaving Switzerland due to overstaying their visa by two weeks. They were allowed to go with just a warning, but they had to book new flights.
I know of someone who overstayed by six months and now has an “illegal immigrant” stamp on her passport. In order to enter Europe again, she must apply for a visa at an embassy from now on and be preapproved. A reader sent me an email about a similar experience: “I made the mistake of attempting to leave from the Netherlands after overstaying a Schengen visa and was caught. I overstayed by about a month and they hand drew some sort of insignia in my passport to note my overstay. They told me I’d have to contact the IND and find out if I would be able to enter the Schengen states again.”
Yet if you leave from Greece, France, Italy, or Spain—the southern European countries—you won’t have any problems, provided you a) haven’t stayed over too long and b) didn’t catch the immigration officer on a bad day. When I left Greece, no one even looked at my passport. One of my friends met a boy in France, fell in love, and decided to not leave. A year later, when she finally did, the French officials didn’t even look twice. Another friend flew into France and didn’t get an entry stamp. Spain is notorious for not caring, and Americans who decide to overstay for months mention that as the easiest country to exit from.
That being said, I don’t think it’s wise to overstay. No matter where you are, you can get away with a few days. Maybe a week, especially if you’re heading home. But a few weeks? A few months? Don’t risk it.
Can you just extend your Schengen visa/stamp?
The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums, while a mess of random posts, are good for one thing: stuff like this. I came across one great quote: “This topic has been discussed ad nauseum here on the boards for years. If someone found a way to extend a Schengen, we would have heard of it by now.”
He’s right. Simply put, you cannot extend your visa or entry stamp. There’s a 90-day limit, and that’s that.
So then what’s a tourist to do?
Three Visa Loopholes Anyone Can Use
Unfortunately, the majority of the countries do not allow long-term stay visas for visitors. In my pursuit of a long-term visa for Sweden, I found that there’s no universal long-term tourist visa for the Schengen Area. Schengen allows for a D- or C-class visa (letter varies on the country), which is a semi-permanent residence visa for up to one year. But the specific visa and requirements vary from country to country. Some countries are harder, some are easier, and others are nearly impossible despite being in the same visa treaty zone. (I don’t understand the variance either. Same zone, different rules—it makes no sense. You’d think if they were to all have the same rules they would abide by the same visa.)
But there are a few countries that do offer long-term visas, and these countries are the way into Europe:
France offers a long-term visitor visa for a period of up to one year. The application process takes up to one month. According to the French Embassy, “The ‘visitor’ visa (or visa “D”) allows you to enter France and stay for more than three months. Long stay visa holders will be allowed to reside in France for up to 12 months according to the validity of their visa and purpose of stay.”
To get this visa, you must set up an appointment at the French consulate near you. You can’t walk in—you must make an appointment.
At this appointment, bring the following documents:
- One application form filled out completely and signed.
- One ID picture glued onto the application form.
- Your original passport, which must have been issued less than 10 years ago, be valid for three months after your return, and have at least two blank pages left.
- A letter certified by a notary public that promises you won’t engage in work.
- A letter of employment stating current occupation and earnings.
- Proof of income (you’ll need bank statements or copies of your investment portfolio).
- Proof of medical insurance that includes evacuation insurance.
- Proof of accommodation in France. (The French consulate never returned my emails, so I was unsure how you could have this before you even get to France. One could use a friend’s address or, lacking that, “rent” a place (one where you can get a refund) for the purposes of the interview. It’s a little fuzzy.)
Note: you can’t apply for this visa more than three months before your arrival date.
You can visit the French Embassy for links to local embassies and consulates for more information.
Sweden also offers a long-term stay tourist visa for a maximum period of one year. The process is easy but long—up to eight months! It’s not something to do at the last minute. You’ll need two copies of the following documents when applying for the visa:
- Residence permit for visitor’s application form.
- Notarized copies of the pages of your passport that show your identity and the validity of your passport as well as copies of all the other visas/stamps you have.
- A bank statement showing means to support yourself for the duration of your stay.
- A return airplane ticket.
- A letter from your insurance company stating you’re covered overseas.
Applications can be delivered in person during visiting hours (no appointment needed) or mailed to a Swedish consulate.
After your documents are received, you’ll be required to have an interview with one of the immigration officers. Most people who apply for this visa have family in Sweden. If you don’t, you’ll need to have clear reasons as to why you need to stay longer and show ample proof that you can support yourself.
You can find a list of Swedish embassies here.
Like the other countries, Italy will let you in if you can afford it and promise not to work. You’ll need the following documents to apply:
- A long-term visa application filled in and signed at the consulate. You must appear in person.
- One passport-style photo.
- Your passport, which has to be valid three months over the planned stay in Italy. The passport will be kept during the application process.
- Documented and detailed guarantee of steady income. Proof of financial means, such as letters from the bank indicating the status of your account, including amount of money in the account.
- Proof of lodging in Italy.
- A letter specifying the reason for your stay in Italy, length of stay, and where you plan to reside.
- A notarized background check.
This visa is issued solely to those who are planning to move to Italy and not work.
For more information, visit the Italian Embassy website.
PS – Spain and Portugal offer long-term-stay visas, but they’re geared to people who are retired and have lots of assets. They aren’t meant for people passing through, but you can always apply and try.
- Citizens of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are eligible for one- to two-year working holiday visas, which allow them to stay and work within the Schengen Area. Applicants must apply for this visa from a specific country and be younger than 30. I would apply for this visa even if I didn’t plan on working simply to get the extended time in Europe.
- Rules are not universal. In some cases (depending on your country of citizenship), additional documents may be required. You’ll want to check with your local embassy for specifics, but you aren’t restricted from applying for these visas from your home country.
- All of these visas will require you to show proof that you either have income, have a high savings, or both. They’re adamant about not letting these visas be someone’s back-door way of getting into the EU and finding a job. While most didn’t give an exact number, I would say that if you don’t have at least $30,000 USD in your bank account when you apply, you shouldn’t apply. It’s hard to say for sure how much you really need as the embassy websites aren’t specific. It’s most likely at the discretion of the immigration officer, but the more money you can show, the better. This is about proving you don’t need to work. For citizens coming from developing countries, this number might be higher, and you may even need someone to vouch for you.
Because of Europe’s open-border policies, you simply need to enter and exit from the country that issued you the visa, but you can be anywhere in Europe during the length of your visa. Once a country has issued you one of these short-term-stay residence visas, you’re a “resident,” allowing you access to anywhere in Europe. Since the Swedish visa takes so long, I’m applying for a French one, but after I get to Paris, I’m simply going to fly to Stockholm.
Other Ways to Stay in Europe
Study – All Schengen Area countries offer student visas that aren’t hard to obtain so long as you’re enrolled in a recognized university program. This would require you to pay for the course, but it will virtually guarantee you a visa.
Marry – Fall in love with a European (or at least a friend) and apply for a marriage visa!
Be Self-Employed – Germany offers a “self-employment” visa. If you’re a freelancer and have some form of income, this is the visa to get. It’s perfect and will give you one to two years in the EU. This isn’t a business visa where you move your company to Germany, but a visa for contract workers, artists, web folks, and other freelance-type jobs. You need to apply for this visa when in Germany.
You can apply for this visa while you’re in Germany, and the process usually takes about a week. You simply need the following documents at your visa appointment:
- A completed application form.
- Two passport photos.
- Bank statements – Like the other visas, they want to know you have money just in case you don’t find work. As before, the more money the better.
- A copy of your resume.
- Proof of residency – You’ll either need to be on a rental contract or be on someone’s rental agreement. You need to bring an official copy of the rental agreement to the immigration office. Adam of Travels of Adam, says, “All I’ve ever had are short sublets. You still have to register at a local city office but all I’ve done is show up with a printed-out lease from the Internet, and submitted that. Once you do that, you get the official form from the local office and that’s all the visa people want to see.”
- Health insurance – You need to have German insurance that’s valid for at least one year. It’s easy to get once you’re in Germany, and you don’t need to be a German citizen to get it.
Bring a German speaker with you just in case there’s a need for translation. The process is pretty straightforward. You might get lucky and get the visa that day. Or they might review it over the course of a couple of weeks. But if they do that and your 90-day Schengen visa is close to expiring, they’ll give you a temporary three-month visa extension while they process your request. In theory, one could apply for the visa knowing they won’t meet all the requirements simply to get the three-month temporary visa.
It’s very rare someone is denied for this visa if they can show they have a job and proof of income. You can find out more information here.
The best, easiest, and most effective way to stay in Europe long term is to increase the number of countries you visit so you’re in the Schengen Area for only 90 days. As I said, there are a lot of countries not in the Area, so this is easy to do.
If you do want to stay in the Schengen Area beyond the 90-day limit, you need to apply for one of the visas listed above. When you go to the interview, make it crystal clear that you have enough money to support yourself, you’re not looking for a job, and give good reasons why you need to stay longer. I doubt “I want to spend more time drinking in Greece” will get you anywhere.
If you’re like me and want to stay longer than 90 days, be prepared to work the system. I decided not to apply for a Swedish visa because of the wait time and go for the French one instead. If I’m denied that visa, I’ll enter on a normal, 90-day tourist visa and head to Berlin for the independent work visa. But that’s because I can show proof of income.
In the end, it’s not impossible to stay longer in the Schengen Area. By working the system a bit and using the few loopholes that do exist, one can legally stay past 90 days and enjoy all Europe has to offer without worrying about being barred for life.
Continue planning your trip to Europe with the posts below. I’ve been every summer. I know the continent and can help!
—> 10 Ways to Get Cheap Flight to Europe
—> Continent-wide Europe travel guide
—> Cheap Ways to Travel Across Europe
—> Is a Eurail Pass Worth the Cost?