Long-Term Travel in Europe: How to Stay Past 90 days
For many travelers, traveling to Europe is a dream. Full of diversity, incredible food, easily accessible transport between countries, and unique landscapes, it’s easy to see why Europe is the most visited continent.
But if you are not a European citizen your time is limited for visiting most countries, but, don’t fear, there are many ways you can stay past your vacation period! Here, we’re going to explore the options for traveling long-term in Europe as a U.S. citizen
How To Travel in Europe Long-Term
U.S. citizens are granted an automatic short stay tourist visa of 90 days, meaning you do not have to apply for a visa to enter most European countries or the Schengen zone if your stay is shorter than this time. This is a maximum limit of 90 days within a 180 day period.
The Schengen Zone (or Schengen Area) is a group of 26 European countries that has removed border obstacles, allowing people to pass freely between these countries without being subjected to passport/ID checks. That means you could cross into Spain from Germany via France by car just like you can pass from state to state in the US with no restrictions.
U.S. citizens are allowed to remain in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days, visa free. But what happens if you want to stay past the 90 day mark in this area?
One way around it, without obtaining a visa and if you have the funds, is to visit a country that is not within the Schengen area when your 90/180 day mark comes up. This can include the UK, Ireland, Croatia, Romania, or Morocco, for example. This route can be tricky though since you cannot simply pop over to Morocco for a week and then go back to a Schengen country. You would actually need to be outside the Schengen Zone for a total of 90 days before you can return.
It is a rolling process that includes your complete travel itinerary from the past 180 days. This would take a lot of planning, preparation, and some extra funds as you would have to spend 3 months in the Schengen zone, 3 months out, and then return.
As the “hop in hop out” method isn’t the easiest or cheapest there are other ways to travel around Europe long-term without that headache. Long-term Schengen visas are available for Americans who wish to stay longer than 90 days in Europe.
Visa Options for Long-Term Travel in Europe
Traveling around Europe long-term, for over 90 days, will require a visa. The three categories you can obtain a visa from are, work, resident, and student visas. You must meet certain requirements for each visa so be sure to check all options and see which one could fit your situation best!
Below is an example of Spain’s list of long-term Schengen visas for stays over 90 days. Other European countries have similar, if not exact, visa options with variations of requirements.
- Work permit exemption
- Work and residence permit
- Religious activity
- Digital nomad visa (not yet available in Spain but discussions are underway for a possible 2022 launch)
- Non-lucrative / retirement
- Residency for family regrouping
- Au pair
- North American Cultural and Language Assistant
- Unpaid internship
Work and residence visas are more difficult to obtain as an American since the requirements are stricter and take salary, savings, and other requirements heavily into account.
Out of these three categories, a student visa is the easiest to obtain based on the requirements. Each type of student visa has slightly different requirements but the two that are very similar are the North American Cultural and Language Assistant (a teaching English abroad program) and the regular student visa. These often get confused as the same, but they are different. The assistant program visa is a program that you apply for through the government (usually the Ministry of Education). These programs are offered in multiple countries including, Spain, Italy, and France, among others.
They vary from country to country so be sure to thoroughly research these programs based on your intended country of destination.
The student visa allows you to apply to an academy to take intensive or extensive language classes for about 20 hours a week (part time). You also have the option of enrolling in a European university to receive an undergraduate or postgraduate degree under the student visa.
The non-lucrative visa has become very popular in the past years for expats and retirees as the requirements can be met with the right amount of savings per year. If you have the funds and can prove you are economically self-sufficient, consider this option!
Europe’s digital nomad visas are becoming more and more popular as company’s are transitioning to remote working. Countries like Estonia and Georgia have paved the way for many other countries to follow-suit in offering a digital nomad visa for those seeking the freedom of traveling while working.
These visas usually last for 1-2 years and depending on the country can be renewed. You will need to have proof of regular income plus other qualifications, but the requirement for the amount of funds will differ by country.
An important requirement for almost all long-term Schengen visas is private medical insurance. You will need to acquire private medical insurance from a company that operates in the country you choose for the same length of time that your visa will be valid. For example, regular student visas usually revolve around the academic year, meaning you need to have coverage from around September to June, if not more. Don’t panic, private health insurance in Europe is much more affordable in comparison to the U.S. and covers all the basics you would need.
Depending on the visa, you can be granted permission to reside in the EU/Schengen area anywhere from 6 months to 5 years, consecutively. Also, depending on the country you choose, you will have to make an appointment at the country’s consulate in your jurisdiction. For example, if you live in Oklahoma and are seeking a visa to come to Spain, you need to go through the Spanish Consulate in Houston.
For detailed information on the above mentioned (work, residence, student, and more!) grab your copy of I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe. With over 50 visa options in the 17 easiest European countries to stay or live long-term, there is a visa option for you to enjoy Europe after your 90 days are up!
Planning Your Long-Term Travel Trip to Europe
Whether you decide to stay 100 or 300 days in Europe, you should establish a plan (a backup plan also never hurts!). Research the desired country where you would be happy learning the language and having a base in and see which visa requirements fit you the best.
Once you’re ready to apply for your visa it is highly recommended that you make an appointment as soon as possible at the consulate in your jurisdiction as they can get booked out months or (in some cases) years in advance.
Deciding which country to have a base in can be the hardest part for some people. Maybe you love Italian culture but want to learn Spanish but want to see the Eiffel tower everyday on your morning walk? Figure out which aspects of being abroad for more than 3 months are most important to you. Is it improving your language skills? Eating your favorite foods everyday? Having a large expat support system? Answering these questions can help you narrow down your options.
Don’t want to have a semi-permanent base and crave hopping around from country to country? This is also possible! Normally, residency and work visas are location-oriented, but with the boom of self-employment and remote working, location independence is very possible, especially with a digital nomad visa.
Student visas can also be more flexible. You can be an au pair for 6 months in one country and 6 months in another or as a student enrolled in a language academy, you can take online classes, giving you location independence.
Be sure to check the visa requirements, many require proof of a rental/housing contract for the duration of your stay.
And if you want to avoid visas all together, plan your “hop in hop out” strategy so you can spend 90 days within the Schengen Zone and 90 days in non-Schengen countries to prolong your stay.
Packing for a long-term trip abroad can be daunting, but with some planning and organization, you’ll be able to travel with just the right amount! Need help? Check out our 25 Essential Packing Tips for Moving Abroad that dives into all the details!
Traveling within European countries is easy and very affordable. Public transportation within many large cities is simple and cheap. Flights from Rome to London can be as low as €40 round trip and train travel, depending on the country, is very affordable, plus it’s one of the best ways to travel around!
To travel long-term in Europe is a dream and it is a privilege to be able to stay. It is such a unique and memorable experience and visiting for a short period only makes you wish you could stay longer. Many people that come to Europe for extended periods end up not wanting to return home! Whichever route you choose for your long-term European journey, it’s almost a sure thing you will enjoy your extended stay in this beautiful continent.