Good to Know – Visa Information for U.S. Travelers in Europe

via Flickr CC @Nicolas Raymond

In general, travelling through Europe is incredibly hassle free. With excellent train systems connecting multiple countries, and discount airlines that often charge more for your checked bag than your seat, getting around Europe is easy and affordable. On top of that, visa requirements for the majority of Europe-trotting American tourists are non-existent.  Knowing when and where a visa is required for U.S. travelers in Europe can be confusing. Let’s find some clarity.

Do I Need a Visa or Not? 

The short answer is, maybe. Of the 51 countries in Europe, 28 belong to the European Union, most of which are in Western Europe, and 26 countries belong to the Schengen area. Then there are countries like Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland that belong to the Schengen area but not the EU. What does this mean to you? Well, each of these groups carries its own rules and regulations when it comes to visa requirements.

To make things more confusing, the recent issues with migrating immigrants from the Middle East, and the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union may complicate things for future travelers.

via Flickr CC @AIR FORCE ONE
via Flickr CC @AIR FORCE ONE

For now, the United States is on a list of visa-exempt countries in the Schengen area and many non-Schengen countries in Europe. This means Americans can travel there without a visa for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. The only countries that require a visa for Americans are Turkey, Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.

What’s a Schengen Anyway?

The Schengen area is a group of 26 countries that have agreed upon abolishing their borders to allow free movement of people and goods. It was signed in the town of Schengen, Luxemburg — a tiny country plagued by borders as it’s surrounded by Germany, France, and Belgium. The Schengen area allows for borderless travel through the bulk of Europe. This means no long lineups, paperwork, or restrictions when crossing between countries. Taking a road trip through western Europe is essentially the same as driving from New York to California, except with better pastries and fewer strip malls.

Long Term Workaround

One caveat of the Schengen area is you cannot overstay your welcome. If you’re lucky enough to be spending more than 90 days in Europe, a simple workaround is spending some of your time in non-Schengen countries. Spend 8 days road tripping around Ireland or head to Montenegro for 3 days before continuing your trip through the Schengen territory.

via Flickr CC @PROslgckgc
via Flickr CC @PROslgckgc

Rule of Thumb

Always get your passport stamped when entering and leaving Schengen area countries. This may sound easy but let me assure you, requesting a grumpy border agent at a non-Schengen crossing to stamp your passport by using hand gestures to communicate can be a tough ask.

Also, when travelling, ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months. Take it with you when you travel along with a photocopy and know the rules and requirements of the countries you’re visiting. Do the countries you plan to visit require a visa? If so, what are the conditions? Knowing this ahead of time can save you the stress while away or even keep your trip from ending abruptly.


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Cover image via Flickr CC @Nicolas Raymond

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