Before I even arrived in Europe I was confused by the Schengen Zone and found that visa information was not very clear – it’ s really hard to figure out what will determine a Schengen Visa Overstay. It wasn’t until a few weeks into my trip that I realised I had a ninety day cap on my time for all the countries in the Schengen Zone (this was slightly complicated by the fact I’m a New Zealander). The plenties for overstaying in the Schengen Zone can vary from a proverbial slap on the wrist to being banned from the region for a few years – neither are particularly tempting, so it’s a good idea that you understand where you stand before you arrive.
What is The Schengen Zone?
Don’t mistake the EU for being the Schengen Area – although there are a number of overlaps, they are two different things. At present there are 26 countries in the Schengen Zone including France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Spain and Greece. If you’re interested in the full list of Schengen members, you can find the current list here. Where travel is concerned, these countries are essentially one giant country. The benefit of this means that there are no borders and you can travel freely between each. However, on a recent trip to Berlin from Prague the bus I was traveling on was pulled aside and everyone’s passports were checked by intimidating German Police (December 2011) – this is the exception though.
What Does This Mean For Travel in The Schengen Zone?
It means that your time within the Schengen Zone will be counted for all of the countries within it, making it very easy to accidentally have a Schengen visa overstay. If you are a citizen from one of the countries that have a visa free agreement with the Schengen Zone (current list here) then you will be entitled to travel throughout this area, without visa, for a total of ninety days within every 180 days. The only exception to this is New Zealand nationals which will be discussed further below.
This is where it gets a little confusing. Let’s say, for example, that you have a trip around Europe planned. You want to visit France and Spain for a total of two months, then you’re going to spend two weeks in England (not Schengen) before you plan to spend six weeks in Greece. You can’t do this without a visa, because you will be overstaying the 90/180 day limit. If you spend ninety days traveling around the Schengen region and then fly to Turkey you’ll have to wait ninety days before you can reenter the Schengen Zone.
New Zealand citizens are lucky, they are entitled to travel visa free for a total of 90 days out of 180 in each of seventeen Schengen countries provided that they don’t cross into a country not included on this list. This is due to bilateral visa waiver agreements that were signed before the individual countries joined the Schengen region. This means, in theory, New Zealand citizens could travel around these 17 countries for a total of just over four years before they would require a visa, making it much easier for New Zealanders to avoid a Schengen visa overstay. However, because your passport is rarely stamped when you exit a country within Schengen it’s important that you keep some informal evidence of your movement incase this is an issue at the border when you eventually do leave.
How Can I Stay Longer?
You’ll need to apply for a visa – this can be done at an embassy outside the Schengen Area in advance. As I decided to stay within the Czech Republic for longer than the allowed three months, I filed for a Working Holiday Visa – allowing me a year within the Czech Republic and free movement around the Schengen area too. I applied for my visa so that it would start when my ninety days from my visa free entry would lapse – providing me with a total of approximately 15 months within the Schengen Area. I traveled to Berlin, Germany in order to apply for it and again to collect it. It is a best idea to apply for a visa for the country you intend to start your trip in or the country you plan to spend the most time in. Contact a relevant embassy for more information on your particular circumstance.
What Happens If I Overstay My Schengen Visa?
This is really at the discretion of the customs officer inspecting your passport. You could slip by without so much as a warning, or you could receive a substantial fine and even be banned from the Schengen Zone for a number of years. If you don’t fancy being banned (from one year ban right up to a life ban), or paying in excess of 700 Euros, then it’s best to apply for a longer visa so that you can avoid a Schengen visa overstay. Do NOT leave your visa application until after you are already an overstayer – this will not go down well. It is very likely that your passport and stay length will be checked when you depart from the Schengen area but there are also incidental checks, such as if you are stopped by a police officer or involved in a car crash. You may slip through without warning or care, but you could be pulled aside when you return into the Schengen Zone next. Because the Schengen Zone encompasses such a large area and number of countries, finding yourself unable to reenter will certainly dampen any future travel plans.
Have you ever dealt with a Schengen Visa Overstay? Let us know what happened in the comments below: