Are you wanting to travel long term in Europe? Do you need to figure out how to stay longer than the 90-day tourist visa for the Schengen Zone? This is a common problem for digital nomads, backpackers, and retirees who want to spend more than 3 months exploring Europe. Many people wonder how they can travel in Europe for 6 months or a year.
In this article, I discuss the tourist visa rules and the 9 easiest options for tourists who want to travel in Europe long term. These are not ways to immigrate to Europe or establish permanent residence. They are ways to legally stay longer as a tourist or visitor.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for general information purposes only. It is not meant to represent legal, financial, medical, or other professional advice. Deskless Nomad makes no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete, or up to date. Please see the full Deskless Nomad Disclaimer.
Must-know info for long-term travel in Europe: The Schengen Area, Schengen 90-day rule, and ETIAS Explained
The Schengen Area
Schengen is a group of 26 European countries and micro-states that allow Schengen Area residents to freely cross national borders without needing to show a passport.
The Schengen Area is often confused with the European Union but they are not the same.
The EU is a political and economic partnership. The Schengen is a common visa policy. Some countries are part of the EU but not Schengen, and vice versa.
Visitors from countries outside of the Schengen zone only need to present passports to Schengen border control in the first country they enter. After that, they do not need to present it again to other Schengen countries while traveling within the Schengen zone.
The Schengen and non-Schengen European countries and microstates are:
The 90 day Schengen Area Rule for Visitors explained
Travelers from outside of the European Union (including Americans ) may visit the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a 180-day (or 6 month) period. You can visit and travel in Europe for 3 months. Once you reach 90 days you have to leave the Schengen Area for 3 months before you can return.
The days counting towards your 90-day limit in a 180-day period are cumulative and do not need to be consecutive. If you plan on going in and out of the Schengen zone you should keep track of your entry and exit dates. Always get your passport stamped as proof of your dates. Staying beyond 90 days can get you banned from traveling in Schengen again.
If you are not an EU citizen and wish to visit the Schengen Zone, you may need a visa. Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries do not need to apply for a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
Visit the Schengen Visa Policy website for a world map showing visa requirements.
Important things to know when planning travel in the Schengen Area
After you have stayed in the Schengen zone for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period, you have to leave. You can’t return until the 181st day from the first day you entered. If you overstay by even one day you can get in serious trouble.
Upon entering the Schengen zone, you may need to show a valid return ticket for within 90 days of entry. Be wary of booking one-way tickets to Schengen Europe. You should understand the pros and cons of using one-way tickets, especially when traveling to the Schengen zone.
You’ll also want to keep the Schengen 90-day rule in mind when booking round-the-world airline tickets. Make sure your itinerary aligns with the 90-day rule.
In 2023, Europe will be implementing ETIAS, a new system to keep track of foreigners entering the EU. ETIAS, or the European Travel Information and Authorization System, is not a true visa. It is rather an online security check to screen for high-risk visitors.
Before traveling to the EU, visitors from outside the Schengen Area will need to apply on the ETIAS website for permission to enter. The process includes answering basic questions like name, date and place of birth, occupation, criminal history, and travel details. There is a fee of €7 for visitors between the ages of 18 and 70.
Your ETIAS will be valid for the duration of your trip or up to three years. Just as with the 90-day Schengen Area rule, ETIAS holders may stay for up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
EU officials expect 95 percent of travelers to receive an approval within minutes. If something in your record is flagged, then they will need to process your application manually. This could take up to two weeks which means you’ll want to complete your application well ahead of your flight. Anyone who is denied access will be able to appeal the denial.
Citizens from countries that currently require a Schengen visa do not need to apply for ETIAS separately. They already go through a similar screening process.
9 ways to travel in Europe longer than the 90-day Schengen Area Rule
1. Travel back and forth between Schengen and non-Schengen countries
The easiest way to travel in Europe long term is to go back and forth between Schengen and non-Schengen countries on tourist visas. If you are from a country (like the US) that doesn’t normally require a Schengen visa to visit Europe then this strategy is the simplest to follow.
Here’s how it works: you spend 90 days in any combination of the Schengen countries and then exit the Schengen Area. Then you spend 90 days in any combination of non-Schengen European countries. On day 181 you can return to the Schengen zone. You simply keep repeating this process to travel in Europe indefinitely.
You can also combine travel to nearby non-European countries like Turkey or Morocco during your non-Schengen days. Georgia and Albania have long-stay tourist visas that allow you to stay and visit for up to a year.
You can spend as long as you want in Europe. Just don’t exceed 90 days out of 180 days in the Schengen Area. Keep track of your entry and exit dates (and get your passport stamped for proof) to avoid exceeding the 90 out of 180-day limit.
Non-Schengen countries in Europe have independent rules about how long visitors can stay without applying for a special visa or residency permit. Most non-Schengen European countries allow US citizens to visit for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. This is independent of the Schengen 90-day limit or limits in other countries. There are a couple of countries that allow stays longer than 90 days (see below).
2. Digital nomad visas
Remote workers or digital nomads who want to be based in a European country for 1-2 years should check out digital nomad visas. Digital nomad visas from Schengen countries also provide the freedom to travel within the Schengen zone. 19 countries in Europe currently offer or are developing digital nomad visas.
To qualify you must work remotely for a company not based in the country where you are applying. In most cases, you can also be a freelancer or entrepreneur. You must be earning money for your remote work and meet certain income requirements. Each country has its own requirements, fees, and visa application process. You can find these details in Deskless Nomad’s worldwide index of digital nomad visas.
If you just want to travel long-term and not work (or you are lucky enough to have passive income) then a digital nomad visa is not an option. You must have employment income for this visa type.
Before applying for one of these visas you’ll want to understand the basics of taxes for digital nomads, especially if you are a US citizen. While many digital nomad visas offer attractive tax benefits, there are several pros and cons of digital nomad visas to take into consideration.
Overall, digital nomad visas are a great way to continue working while enjoying the benefits of long-term slow travel as a digital nomad.
3. Long stay visas
Unfortunately, the majority of Schengen countries do not offer long-stay tourist visas for more than 3 months. Georgia and Albania are two non-Schengen countries in the region that allow long tourist visas of up to a year. The United Kingdom allows stays of up to 6 months for citizens of certain countries.
For most Schengen countries, if you want a long-stay visa, you have to apply for residency. The Schengen Area allows for C- or D-class temporary residence visas for up to one year. Temporary residence visa requirements vary from country to country, with some countries having more complicated application processes.
There are a few countries that offer easy-to-obtain long-term visitor visas:
France Long Stay Visa
France offers a long-term visitor visa for a period of up to one year for the purpose of travel. Applications are via appointment at the closest French consulate. You can’t apply more than 3 months before your arrival date.
Once you arrive in France you are expected to stay in France and not travel to the other Schengen countries. You will need proof of pre-booked accommodation prior to travel.
The visa does not permit you to engage in work while you are in France. You will need to prove you have savings or other means to support yourself with a minimum of €65 per day.
Portugal D7 Visa
Portugal’s D7 visa is a type of residence visa for those with passive income. Applicants must have sufficient income from pensions, real estate, financial investments, or savings to support them for a year. The income requirement is around €760 per month (for 2022).
While on this visa you cannot work for a company in Portugal. You may still be able to work remotely. Portugal also recently announced a digital nomad visa for remote workers.
The main restriction with this type of visa is the need to be present in Portugal for at least 183 days during the year. Those 183 days in Portugal can still be restrictive if you really want to be traveling in other countries.
One amazing benefit of the D7 visa is that you can take advantage of the non-habitual tax regime (NHR). For the first 10 years, there is no tax on your foreign-sourced income and a flat tax of 20% on Portuguese-sourced income.
Spain Non-Lucrative Residence Visa
Spain also offers a long-term tourist visa called the Non-Lucrative Residence Visa. It requires you to spend at least 183 days in Spain which means you will become a Spanish tax resident. You are unable to work and therefore must have enough savings or investment income to support you (minimum €27,000). The visa is primarily designed for retirees or people who have saved enough for a year of travel.
You must apply for the Spanish Non-Lucrative Visa in your country of residence. The application process includes an interview at the nearest embassy.
Sweden Long-Term Visitor’s Permit
Non-EU citizens who want to stay in Sweden for more than 90 days can apply for a Swedish long-term visitor’s permit. If you know that you want to stay for more than 90 days, you can apply for a six-month visitor’s permit in advance. The permit can be extended for up to a year.
There are a couple of unique details about this visa type.
- Unlike the other long-stay visas listed above, you have freedom of movement throughout the Schengen area. You don’t need to stay in Sweden the whole time.
- If you are already in Sweden you can still apply for a long-term visitor permit through the Swedish Migration Agency. The process usually takes around two weeks if you apply once you are in Sweden.
- To apply you must have an “invitation” from someone you are visiting in Sweden and proof you can support yourself during your stay.
You will need to have a return ticket or proof of sufficient funds to buy a ticket home. Your passport must be valid for at least 90 days beyond your trip dates. You’ll also need proof of insurance coverage. See the Swedish Migration Agency’s website for full details.
4. Bilateral visa waiver agreement between your home country and a country in the EU
Bilateral visa waiver agreements are a great option to travel long-term in Europe as long as you can qualify. The one caveat is that not all border agents are aware of the waiver.
There are visa waiver agreements between the U.S. and certain Schengen countries. These agreements allow US citizens to stay an additional specified period of time beyond the 90 days in the Schengen area. Several other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have their own bilateral agreements with various European countries. Here is a list of the existing bilateral visa waiver agreements.
These European countries have bilateral visa waiver agreements with the United States (in parenthesis is the length of time you can stay beyond the 90-day Schengen rule):
- Belgium (3 months)
- Denmark (3 months)
- France (90 days)
- Hungary (90 days)
- Italy (3 months)
- Latvia (90 days in 6 months)
- Netherlands (90 days)
- Norway (90 days)
- Portugal (60 days)
- Spain (90 days)
There are a couple of rules you need to follow if using a visa waiver agreement for long-term travel.
- You must first use up your 90-day Schengen limit (usually outside of that country) before using a bilateral visa waiver agreement. For this, you may only need to have proof you entered Schengen from a different country.
- In some cases, you may need to briefly exit the Schengen area after using up your 90 Schengen days before flying directly to the country in which you plan to use the bilateral visa waiver agreement.
- While using the visa waiver of a particular country you must remain in that country and not travel to other Schengen countries.
- When you depart, you must exit the Schengen area from that country.
- Your departure flight must go directly to a country outside of the Schengen area (you can’t transit through another Schengen airport).
Using bilateral visa waiver agreements to extend your stay can be tricky since not all border agents may be aware of the rules. Consider contacting the embassy of the country where you intend to travel to find out if there are any restrictions and how to go about utilizing the waiver. You may want to get something in writing from the embassy to show any border agent who questions the policy.
5. Working holiday visa
Working holiday visas differ from tourist visas in that they allow you to live, work, and travel for a set period of time (usually 12 months). This working holiday visa is a fantastic way to spend a gap year. The catch is you generally have to be younger than 30 (although there are a couple of exceptions that accept travelers up to 35).
Even if you don’t want to work while traveling long term, the working holiday visa is a great option to legally travel in Europe for longer than 90 days. If you choose to work, you are only allowed to work in the country that issued the working holiday visa. Those wanting to stay in Europe longer can get consecutive working holiday visas from different countries.
For young travelers from Australia, Canada, or New Zealand, a working holiday visa is the best way to travel long-term in Europe. Young travelers from South Korea, Israel, Hong Kong, and Japan may also be eligible depending on the European country. For Americans, there are only two working holiday visa options: Ireland and Portugal.
6. Student Visa
Combining language study and travel is an easy way to extend your stay in Europe or spend a gap year. Language programs are a wonderful way to learn more about a culture, meet fellow travelers, and have a more meaningful slow travel experience. They are great for travelers of any age. I can’t recommend them enough!
You must be enrolled in a recognized program in order to qualify. There are many foreign language and culture courses in Europe that will enable you to get a student visa. You will need to take a minimum of 15-20 hours of classes a week. This leaves you free to explore locally for half the day and travel further on weekends and holidays.
It is relatively straightforward to apply for a student visa. Once you have enrolled in a qualifying program, the school will provide a letter you can use for your visa application stating you will be a student there. The schools usually offer guidance on the student visa application process and various documents you will need such as evidence of financial support and health insurance.
Each country has its own requirements for study visas. There are different types of visas depending on the length of your course. Many student visas even allow you to work part-time to support yourself.
7. Become a Language Assistant
Language assistant programs allow non-EU citizens the chance to stay in Schengen countries for a long period of time by teaching English to children. France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland all run similar Langauge Assistant programs.
As a Language Assistant, you will be assigned to a school and expected to teach English between 12-20 hours a week. The programs provide stipends and often include health insurance, a meal allowance, an accommodation waiver, and/or a transport fee waiver. To become a language assistant you have to have some knowledge of the local language and meet other qualifications.
8. Become an Au Pair
Au Pairs are basically nannies that live with host families. In exchange for taking care of the children and doing some light housework, the host family provides you with free lodging, meals, and a small salary. The positions are generally for at least 6 months. This is basically a job that may leave little time for travel. But if you are on a budget and really want to spend significant time in another country it is an excellent option.
9. Schengen Visa Extensions
In rare cases, you can apply for a short-stay Schengen visa extension.
You must have a strong reason for staying such as:
- Receiving medical treatment
- Attending a funeral
- Supporting a family member through a hardship
- A war in your home country
- Natural disasters in your home country make it unsafe for you to return
- An unexpected big family event like a wedding or the death of a family member residing in the Schengen Area
A Schengen Visa extension is not an option for most tourists.
I hope this guide has helped you understand the 90-day Schengen rule and the various ways to legally travel in Europe long term.
The easiest way to travel in Europe for longer than 90 days is to split your time between Schengen and non-Schengen countries. You don’t need to apply for any special visas. By keeping track of your dates and strategically resetting your Schengen Visa clock with non-Schengen countries, you can travel in Europe indefinitely.
Your nationality, where you want to travel, and how you want to spend your time will determine the other options available to you for long-term travel. You can choose to work remotely, study, teach English part-time, work as an au pair, invoke bilateral visa waiver agreements, or apply for long visitor visas in certain countries.
If you are still in the planning stages for long-term travel in Europe, make sure to check out my long-term travel planning checklist and timeline to help you prepare for your next great adventure. You might also like to read the secrets I wish someone had told me before long-term travel.