Long term traveling without a visa is difficult, but completely possible with proper planning. If you stay in the Schengen Area for longer than 90 days, you run the risk of expensive fines, deportation, and a big ol’ mark on your passport banning you from reentry for multiple years (duration of the ban is at the discretion of each country). The Schengen Area includes most of the European Union, as well as a few non-EU countries. So if you plan on legally staying, there are some ways to navigate around not obtaining a visa, the easiest way is being aware of the 90/180 rule. This is where things are about to get a little complicated so please read carefully…
The current members of the Schengen Area are as follows:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
You cannot stay within the Schengen Area for a sum of 90 days without leaving the area for an additional 90 days. Once you’ve stayed in for 90 days and stayed out for an additional 90 days, you have completed your 180 days. At your 181st day, you may reenter, and restart your european travel clock. This does not necessarily mean you must stay for 90 days and then leave for 90 days. You can stay for a month, leave for a month, and return for a month, etc. You cannot stay for more than 90 consecutive days or more than 90 cumulative days within the 180 day period. Although, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the United Kingdom are a part of the European Union, they are not a part of the Schengen area – yet. Therefore, they have separate regulations. For instance, you can stay in the United Kingdom for up to 180 days.
So back to how to stay in the Schengen Area, without a visa, for longer than 90 days. You can leave and reenter as many times as you’d like, as long as you stay within your 90/180 limitations. Of course, you are welcome to travel to any part of the world, but some easily accessible and common destinations that travelers visit, and quickly return from, are:
Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ireland, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Kosovo, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
I am currently traveling for a total of 94 days before returning to America. If I stayed in Europe for all 94 of those days, I run the risks that I listed above, therefore I needed to leave the Schengen Area for at least 4 days in order to return to America without any issues. While I don’t recommend it, it is possible to stay a few days past the 90 days – especially if you are returning home. Staying an extra mere 4 days may not have been an issue for me, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Also, I didn’t list Israel in the list of easily accessible countries above; I was able to find a cheap last minute flight from Italy, so be sure to check around for other places that may interest you too.
These are the rules for American Citizens traveling to Europe, if you are from another country you may need to apply for a travelers visa to visit the Schengen Area. Make sure to check the rules that may apply to depart from your home country.
Some maps and information are out dated and/or contradict each other. Be very careful to note how recent maps and other information are. For example, most websites do not include Croatia as a part of the European Union, because it was just officially added July 1st, 2013.
While these are official rules, you are always subject to the mercy of an immigration officer. Be polite and aware that you are a guest in a different country and that you can be refused entry at any point. I’ve been hassled many times for buying one-way tickets and have been asked multiple times to prove a departure ticket. Although it hasn’t stopped me from traveling, I know a few people that have been unable to enter a country for these reasons.
As always, safe travels. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask!