Whew, it’s been one whole minute, y’all. But exciting news! Not only was 2023 the year we quit our jobs and left Los Angeles after 4 (long, arduous) years, but we moved to Europe and shifted the Travelin’ Fools blog to a vlog. It was time.

So without further ado, a little intro if you don’t know us before we get down to more useful details about moving to—and living in—Europe. 

You’re welcome.

How to Stay in Europe Longer than 90 Days, Part 1: What is the Schengen Area? 

In part 1 of this 3-part series, we’re going to talk about what the double hell the “Schengen area” is and if you haven’t yet, why you should probably start to care. In the 2nd part we’ll talk about visa-free options for long term stays within Europe, specifically for U.S.-passport holders, and how to do the Schengen shuffle. And in the 3rd part, we’ll talk about digital nomad visas in Europe.

Definition: The Schengen Area

Basically, the Schengen area is a group of 29 countries in Europe where you can travel freely without having to pass through border controls and show your passport. Countries in the Schengen area are likely the ones you think of when you think of Europe, like France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, etc., though the list is growing all the time. In 2023, for example, Croatia joined the Schengen area, and as of March 2024, Bulgaria and Romania are also included in that list.

Opposite of fun fact: the word ‘Schengen’ comes from the town in Luxembourg where this original agreement was signed in 1985, in case you were wondering. I myself was not, so you’re welcome.

Calculating the 90-Day Rule

Now, whether you want to spend a year in Europe or you’re just coming to Europe as a tourist or for business purposes, in all of those scenarios you’re limited to 90 days out of every 180 days in the Schengen area. This means that whether you stay in Spain for the whole 90 days or you go to 6 different countries within the Schengen area, you get the same allotment of 90 days out of every 180 days.

A common misconception is that when you hit that 90-day limit, you have to leave Europe and get your sad ass on a flight back to Nowheresville, Oklahoma. Much to the delight of everyone who’s been to Oklahoma, that is not the case. When you hit that 90-day limit, you simply have to leave the Schengen area, but you can still stay in Europe. You just need to go to a non-Schengen country, which include countries like Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Georgia, Serbia, Ireland and since Brexit, the UK.

This is not a loophole and it’s not a hack; that’s not what this is. By doing this, you are following the rules in a completely legitimate way.

Another very important thing to note is that the 90 days is on a rolling basis, meaning you don’t have to spend all 90 days in a row in the Schengen area, but you can leave and re-enter as long as you’re still calculating your days correctly. Since this can get rather complicated rather quickly, I’m going to show you 2 potential itineraries: one where you spend 90 consecutive days in the Schengen area, and one where you do not.

Recommended app: Schengen Simple

First, I recommend you download this app called Schengen Simple. It costs about 8 and right now it’s available on iOS. There are other free apps that will work, this one is just the best and clearest one I’ve found.

Itinerary #1: 90 Consecutive Days in the Schengen Area

For this first itinerary, I want to keep it simple and spend 90 days in a row in the Schengen area. I’m going to land in Italy and stay there for the whole month of March. That’s 31 days in the Schengen area, which means I have 59 days left. Now I’m going to take a flight from Naples to Madrid and spend the whole month of April in Spain. At this point I’ve spent 61 days in the Schengen area and have 29 days left. Now I’m going to take a bus from Spain to the southern coast of Portugal and spend my last 29 days hanging at the beach. On May 29th, I officially need to leave the Schengen area, so I fly to Albania, which is officially out of the Schengen area.

The app then tells me my next full 90-day allowance begins on August 28th. 

Itinerary #2: 90 Non-Consecutive Days in the Schengen Area

In this second itinerary, I want to mix it up and start in the Schengen area, leave and come back. This time I’m going to land in Italy and stay there for 30 days. I’m going to drink limoncello in the sunshine for 27 of them, by the way. Then I’m going to fly from Naples to Dubrovnik and spend the next 30 days in Croatia. At this point I’ve spent 60 days in the Schengen area and have 30 days left.

But let’s say I hear good things about Montenegro and decide to take a bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor to spend the next 30 days on the Montenegrin coast, which is officially out of the Schengen area. At this point I still have 30 days left. Now I’m going to meet some friends in Spain, so I fly from Montenegro to Spain for the whole month of June. As of June 30th, I hit my 90-days in the Schengen area and need to leave, so I fly back to Montenegro. 

Because I left the Schengen area for 30 days and the calculation is on a rolling basis, I can technically re-enter the Schengen area on August 28th, but the next full 90-day allowance begins September 29th.

Hot Tips to Keep Yourself on the Good Side of European Border Control

#1, give yourself a buffer on that 90-day limit and leave at least a couple of days in case shit goes down… your flight get cancelled, your yacht gets blasted by orcas, you get invited to go throw tomatoes at J.K. Rowling in Spain, whatever! Leave yourself some wiggle room for incidentals because if you overstay, you can be fined up to 10,000, deported or banned from re-entering the Schengen area for up to 5 years. Gross.

#2, if you’re from the U.S., you currently do not need any sort of visa to enter the Schengen area. There’s a website called Sherpa where you can input your passport country and location where you’re going and it will show you what’s required for that country. This is set to change in 2025 when ETIAS is launched, which just means that anyone between 18 to 70 years old who plans to enter the Schengen area will be required to fill out an online application and pay a 7 fee before you arrive. This was originally supposed to go into effect in 2023, then 2024, and now they’re saying mid-2025, so just keep a loose eye out for official launch date announcements.

#3, there are some European micro-states that are technically not in the Schengen area—Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino—but because they’re bordered by countries that are, they’re considered de-facto members of the Schengen area. So when you’re considering places to go to get out of the Schengen area, long story short: skip those. 

As a reminder, this is part 1 of 3 to learning how to stay in Europe longer than 90 days. Next time I’m going to show you some options for how to travel outside of the Schengen area, including 1 year visa-free options for Americans.

Thanks for watching, it’s been real. Keep it weird and see y’all next time.