How we are Planning Stay in Europe for More than 90 Days (Legally)
We are stuck abroad and right now, we are permanent residents of no-where. Our family travels on New Zealand passports, but we haven't resided in New Zealand since 2011. We lived in Australia until February 2020 on a 'Special Category Visa' which ends every time you leave the country. In Vietnam, we weren't entitled to any kind of residence and were on tourist visas in Vietnam from March 2020 until August 2021. Since August, we've been in Turkey, and our time here is coming to an end. Next up we plan to stay in Europe - more than 90 days!
It's a weird situation!
Now we are in Europe, and there are only a tiny number of countries in this part of the world that allow us to stay more than 90 days on entry.
If you've travelled to Europe before, you'll probably be familiar with the Schengen Zone and the rules around it.
What is the Schengen Visa?
The Schengen Zone is an area comprising of 26 countries (Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland).
When you travel here, (for most of us), the Schengen Visa applies. This allows us to enter and travel across all of these countries for a maximum of 90 days (across all countries total) within a 180 day period.
This means, for most people not on a European passport, you can't really stay in Europe for more than 90 days. Usually, you need to leave the Schengen Zone every three months.
Why 90 Day Visas are no longer 'long' stays
For a lot of us, travelling (or being stuck abroad) during Covid means we are travelling much slower. It's too hard to plan for a speedy six week trip around Europe and then go 'home' to where ever that might be (assuming you can even get home).
Plus, it's too risky. We have learned to allow for the possibility probability that at some time in the next little bit, there will be restrictions or lockdowns of some kind.
That means we look for long visa stays. Or places/regions we can stay a long time without too much visa stress. We know that sometimes, a visa run isn't going to be possible. And we want to know all our options.
And this is why knowing about what you can do with Bilateral Visa Agreements is more important now than ever before.
Bilateral Visa Agreements 101 - Your Ticket to Traveling More than 90 Days in the European Schengen Zone
Prior to the formation of the EU, some countries (now EU member countries) created independent visa agreements with a lot of other countries prior to the EU being a thing.
These agreements are independent of the Schengen Visa and are between two individual countries. This means many people can travel, and remain, legally, for longer than 90 days across the EU region!
The agreements vary depending on the EU member country and your country of citizenship. Some countries might have agreements with one or two EU member countries. Others, like our lucky NZ passport, has individual agreements with most of the EU member countries.
Which Countries Have These Agreements?
Some of the countries I've seen that have these bilateral visa agreements are: Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Israel, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, South Korea, USA, Uruguay
New Zealand is a lucky passport. Our passport has independent, bilateral visa agreements with 18 of the 24 countries in the EU region. There are a number of other countries which have similar bilateral agreements. Click here to find the Official Journal of the European Union that shows exactly which EU countries your country of citizenship has agreements with.
This means that we can stay in Europe for more than 90 days!
It's 90 days per country we have an agreement now, and that is fantastic. Until they bring in the electronic visa - I'm not sure how that will change at that point. I learned about this hack back in 2019 when I was researching different ways we could travel Europe. I made sure to hold onto that sweet nugget of information and now it is coming in handy!
How to Plan More than 90 Days in the Schengen Zone (if you can)
If you wanted to spend a ridiculous amount of time in the Schengen Zone, you can look at spending your first 90 days across countries that your country doesn't have a bilateral visa with first.
Usually, the only time you could run into issues with this, is leaving, at the end of your time abroad. You definitely do not want to leave from a country that your country doesn't have an agreement with.
Once you've got your rough idea of where you're going, then you can double check with the Embassies to make sure they still recognise the agreements. I emailed the Spanish Embassy in New Zealand just before we left (March 2020) to confirm the bilateral agreement was still in place. It was.
I'd recommend printing these embassy confirmations so when you finally depart, you can show you've done things correctly (you only need to get the confirmations from the countries you plan to travel to).
Record Keeping as you travel
Make sure you keep a record of where you stay, transport, country entry and exit dates with you. You want to be able to show you've not stayed longer than 90 days in any one country at the time you leave. It might mean you have a bit of printing to do!
Will you plan to travel Europe for more than 90 days?
I hope this short guide helps with your planning! We are currently planning (sort of) our time in Europe from October 2022 until April 2022. I'll let you know how we go once we depart!
Let us know if you'll be using some of these tips if you're planning to stay in Europe more than 90 days. And if you know someone stuck on this side of the world who might need this guide, please share it with them. You might make their life a whole lot easier.