The Schengen House Rules

It’s a tough truism that in life you just don’t know what you don’t know. You can’t plan for every problem, especially those that don’t so much come out of left field as out of the ballpark entirely.

That’s a good portion of what this blog is for. Other than to give us a place to tell amusing anecdotes and somewhere to link to our photos, we wanted to tell anyone who happened by the things which we managed to figure out on our own, or which we didn’t until it was too late.

This story falls in to the latter category.

It all begins with the three of us lined up and getting grilled by British Immigration at Gare du Nord in Paris (a process which took a solid 20 minutes and involved details of our financial situation that nobody knows other than our CPA. Apparently when you’re traveling Europe for a year-ish and want to spend a month in the UK – twice – alarm bells ring for these guys). I had just convinced the official that we were not a danger to either Queen nor country when the agent idly mentioned that while our plans included a sufficiently brief stay in the UK, it looked like we were going to run afoul of “Showiejflij Rules.”

Really. That’s what it sounded like. I think they put border agents with the thickest accents possible on duty. If you can’t understand them well enough to enter, you don’t get to go through. Sounds like a legit plan.

I really didn’t understand what he said, even after asking him a couple of times to repeat himself, so I finally nodded and smiled and we continued on our way. But a concern was planted and as soon as we were on the train bound for London I was on my phone doing research.

FUCK.

He was right. While I already knew that no country allowed you to stay for more than 90 days, I discovered during my phone-based research that the Schengen Treaty was an effort on the part of most of Europe to standardize their border crossings and to minimize hassle for member citizens. This sounds like a noble cause and is pretty much how states work in the United States (could you imagine having to show papers to go from AZ to NM to TX? Well, maybe TX), however the issue here is that non-Schengen citizens cannot be in any Schengen country for more than 90 days out of any 180 days. 

This? This is a problem.

I have been in Europe for April and May (so 60 days already). We’re about to spend a month in the UK, but then we’re off back to Spain for another 30 days. That’s the limit exhausted right there. In fact, according to our current plans I’d be over the limit by 2 days. To make matters worse, we were scheduled to go to Prague, Czech Republic, for a month next, a Schengen zone country. We had already paid for an airbnb for the month . . . and did I mention that if you do long-term airbnb rentals, they’re non-refundable? Yep.

So what are we going to do? Well, we’ve got emails in with our no-longer-going-to-be-our-host in Prague, hoping that he will take pity on us and refund us anyway. He’s under no obligation to do so, but one can always hope. In the mean time we have booked a riad in Marrakech, Morocco (because why wouldn’t a couple of people from Arizona go to the desert just to get away? In August?). Our flights to Prague we’re having to eat because: airlines.

There is a lesson to all of this however, and one which I hope that anyone who is reading this will take very sincerely to heart:

If you know something, SHARE IT. 

While working through these problems which have very suddenly arisen, we’ve had a really depressingly large number of people say “Oh, the Schengen zone thing? Yeah, I was wondering what you were going to do about that,” or some variation. Friends, family, co-workers. You name it.

When we began this trip . . . AND when we were planning it . . . AND when we were departing . . . we told everyone we knew about it. I’m pretty sure our mailman knew (no, really. We told our mailman). We asked for tips from everyone, thinking (perhaps naively) that we would get vital ones which would impact the entire future of the journey, should anyone we know have them. Clearly a wide swath of the population knew about the Schengen Zone and how we were pretty much entirely screwed by it and yet didn’t think to share it. If even one of them had we could have avoided literally thousands of dollars in wasted money and untold points of blood pressure simply by planning our trip around those constraints better. Honestly, the entire trip would likely have looked different if we had been armed with this knowledge.

But we weren’t.

We’re not meaning this post as a guilt trip to those who might read it, but rather as a prod. We (and I’m certain anyone else you know who might choose to undertake any venture this huge) would infinitely rather have heard things we already knew 10 times than missed information that we needed. Don’t you feel the same?

11 thoughts on “The Schengen House Rules

  1. Hey, Neel thinks that you can file for an extension. Or even more a visa. I’m sure you have looked into this already though?

  2. Oh 🙁

    Its weird, I thought the UK and Ireland weren’t part of the Schengen zone. I seem to remember that they were the 2 only countries that didn’t want to join the zone. Maybe this has changed, though… You probably know more about this than me 🙁

    Wouldn’t leaving the Schengen zone and coming back immediately reset your timer? In this case, going to Morroco would help.

    Another solution would be to spend more time in non-schengen EU countries and Micro countries like Vatican City or Andorra?

    • The UK and Ireland aren’t part of the Schengen zone, but leaving the Schengen zone doesn’t reset the timer — you only get to be in the zone for 90 out of every 180 days without a visa, so you have to wait 180 days after you first enter for it to reset.

      I feel really bad for not mentioning this to you, Ash. I just assumed that you knew and had gotten visas for all of the European travel. 🙁

      • Yeah, we have definitely learned all about that in our research. That’s why we’ve re-arranged our plans to include Marrakech rather than Prague.

        Thanks, @Rachel!

  3. According to the little research that I’ve done this morning after reading your post, you can still take your trip to Prague, you just now need to apply for a tourist visa with the Czech Republic. The Czech embassy is located in Kensington Garden, West London (http://www.mzv.cz/london/en/index.html). The Schengen agreement is just a new way to travel, making it easier to move between EU countries, but (as I understand it) the old, red-tape method is still a valid way of travel. I hope that this helps, and thank you for posting about your troubles. I was never aware of this before. http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/go/schengen-fact-sheet.html

    • Thanks Trey! We hadn’t considered that until we had already changed our plans, but we’re going to use this idea for the Italian section of our trip where Charming may run up against the same problem (she arrived a month after I did, so the limits are hitting us at different times).

    • Thanks Brian. You’re right, it’s not (thank goodness). My 60 (well, 62) days which I’ve already spent has been tallied against me. The whole thing is on pause for now, and then it will start again when we get to Barcelona on the 1st of July.

      We have now changed our plans so that after Barcelona we won’t be going back into the Schengen Zone until it’s been over 180 days, so that’s good. It’ll be a bit different for Charming, but we’re working on a solution. Fingers crossed!

  4. Oh no 🙁 I’m sorry this happened to you. I knew about the rules, but had no clue you guys didn’t know. I didn’t realize you’d be spending so long in Europe, so I didn’t think to mention it. Arg! Sorry about not telling you! That trip to Morocco sounds really great through! And I hope the Airbnb guy refunds your money :).

    • The Czech guy was really cool and gave us back some of it. Really all that we could ask since he wasn’t required to give us any of it. The airlines are of course total asshats and are not returning any of it. I’m not surprised.

      No worries, we’re going to make the best of it all and enjoy the totally different cultural experience that will be Morocco! 🙂

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