Fun memories in England and Croatia (non-Schengen countries)
When we first got accepted to teach abroad, we were so excited to get back to Europe that we immediately booked our plane tickets. We had it all planned out - a month of traveling before making our way to Spain. Visa? No problem. We're volunteering, so we'll just go to the Spanish consulate and apply. Well, we got denied because our program was less than 90 days, which technically means we don't need a visa. All our plans went straight out the window. How do we make the timing work? Can we still travel?
After a small panic attack in Millenium Park, we started doing our research about how to get around the problem of not having a visa. Frustratingly, there wasn't much information about how to do it. Even more frustrating, everything we did find about staying more than 90 days in the Schengen Zone said it was tricky. Honestly, that's pretty accurate. I definitely would not recommend overstaying, but there are ways to make the timing work.
What is the Schengen Zone?
Before I go any further, let's talk about what the Schengen Zone is because I think that can be the most confusing thing for people. There's no set rhyme or reason for what countries are part of it or which aren't. The Schengen Zone is made up of 26 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Why is this important? These 26 countries have come to an agreement that you can travel freely between them, so you don't need extra visas or even border control to go from country to country. So it's super easy and cheap to bounce between them. What are the rules? You can only stay in the Schengen Zone for 90 days within a 180 day period. This just means that you can travel around freely for 3 months out of a 6 month window. The tricky part? The days don't reset just because you leave the Schengen. So if I travel around Europe for 3 months, go home for a month and then go back, I'm now traveling illegally.
Here's how we managed to work around not having a visa and have a killer semester in Europe:
The Schengen Zone and its rules are a bit complex and confusing, but if you give the U.K., Ireland, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine or Turkey a chance, you can plan an amazing trip without having to worry. Open your mind, do a little research and pack your bags. Enjoy your time in Europe!