If you are traveling to Europe either for business or pleasure, you might need to acquire a Schengen Visa. The Schengen Agreement back in 1995 led to the formation of a 26-country borderless zone called the Schengen Area. This region includes Germany, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Citizens of European countries that are not part of this zone may travel through this region with no limitations (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the UK). With the Schengen Visa, you will be able to travel freely throughout these countries without showing documentation when crossing borders. The goal of the Schengen Agreement was to harmonize visa policies and eliminate traffic jams caused by border checks. For international travelers, the Schengen Area is sort of like one really big state. In fact, this area is home to over 400 million people.

Schengen Visa: What, When, and How

Suppose you’re from the following list of countries. In that case, you can visit the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a period of 180 days without the visa: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (SAR), Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Macao (SAR), Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, and Venezuela.

The Schengen Visa comes in three types. You’ll need Type A (Airport Transit Visa) to pass through airports within the Schengen Area. However, this visa is not standardized, and each country has different regulations to determine which citizens need the visa to pass through Schengen airports. Type B (Transit Visa) is valid for only five days. This visa is issued to citizens of non-Schengen countries to travel through the Schengen Zone to reach their destination. Type C is the most commonly used Schengen Visa. It is valid for up to 90 days within a period of six months and grants entry into the Schengen Area. Tourists use this visa for single, double, or multiple entries into the Schengen Area.

To apply for the Schengen Visa, contact the Embassy of whichever country you will be staying in the longest during your European visit. If you will be in different countries for equal amounts of time, chose the country you will visit first. If you have any questions, feel free to ask the Embassy.

Spending a few years traveling Europe is only a dream for most of us. But you can make it work if you’re dedicated. If you’re worried about finances, click here for ways to earn money while you travel. The first thing you need to figure out is how long you’re legally allowed to stay. The Schengen Area encompasses most of Europe. You can travel within this area on a traditional passport for 90 days within a period of 180 days.

What are the Schengen Visa requirements?

There are many requirements you must meet to acquire the Schengen Visa. First of all, your passport must be valid at least three months before the date you visit the Schengen Area. Also, you must prove to the Embassy that you have enough money to fund your trip. You must also prove that you have a valid itinerary, have purchased round-flight tickets, and have reserved room(s) in a hotel. Don’t forget to purchase travel health insurance covering at least the equivalent of $40.56. Your insurance must include hospital treatment and emergency flight. Lastly, you must prove that you are a citizen of your home country and convince the Embassy that you really will leave the Schengen Area within 90 days.

With a Schengen Visa, you can stay in the area for more than 90 days. Countries outside the Schengen Area all have different Visa requirements. You can learn about the requirements for US travelers from the US State Department.

If your parents or grandparents are European citizens, look into the process of obtaining an EU passport. Otherwise, here are some ways to prolong your stay without obtaining a Schengen Visa:

  • Visas: Working Holiday, Long-Term Tourist, or Self-Employment/Freelance
  • Stay in a variety of countries.
  • Become a student
  • Teach English

To obtain a Working Holiday Visa, you must be a citizen of New Zealand, Australia, or Canada and be between the ages of 18 and 35. Unfortunately, Americans are not able to acquire this Visa. Many European countries (such as France) offer a Long-Term Tourist Visa that is usually valid for one year. You will not legally be allowed to work during your stay, and you will need to prove that you have the funds to sustain yourself for one year. You might be eligible for a Freelance Visa or a Self-Employment Visa if you are self-employed. Again, each country has its own list of requirements. Berlin, Germany, is the most accommodating.

One of the easiest ways to stay in Europe for more than 90 days is to simply move in and out of the Schengen Area. For example, travel to Ireland when your 90 days are up. After 90 more days, you can travel back into the area.

If you’re interested in furthering your education, consider applying to a European university. Full-time students are presented with a Visa that allows them to travel anywhere in Europe. Universities often charge foreign students the same tuition as citizens (it’s cheap!). Some young people actually enroll, obtain their Visa, and travel Europe without attending class. If you’re just interested in learning a new language, you can find language classes that grant you a student Visa. These courses are full time and fairly expensive. There are many options available; some institutions allow their students to work part-time.

If you’re interested in teaching English, look into getting your TEFL certificate. Virtually every European country needs English teachers. There are also positions available as a language assistant in government-run programs. For this position, you should know the local language. Expect to make about $1,000 per month with ample time to travel.

Let’s be honest; some visitors simply don’t leave after 90 days. Penalties vary: some countries will ban you from Europe for years, while others will simply give you a warning. Don’t risk it! If you “accidentally” stay in the Schengen Zone for more than 90 days, try to leave from Greece, Italy, or France. These countries are the most lenient.