How Long Can I Stay in Europe as an American? (The Skinny on the Schengen Zone)

by Gigi Griffis

So, you’re getting ready to head to Europe for a long period of time. You’ve got your checklist of must-see towns, your well-packed backpack, and your sense of humor (always required for travel).

But then you get to the border.

And the French say oh, la la, ma’am, no, you cannot stay in France for six months without a special visa.

Because, of course, for better or worse, there are rules.

About how long you can stay in a country and for what purposes (study, tourism, business, etc.).

And if you’ve already started researching how long you can travel in Europe, you know that those rules can get a little confusing.

Which is why I thought I’d take a moment to clear up the mysteries. To tell you about the borderless zone known as the schengen. And to tell you how I’ve managed to spend whole years of my life in Europe.

Here goes.

Assisi Italy
Assisi, Italy.

First, you should know that this info applies to USers. I can’t speak to the requirements for other nationalities (though this is probably also a good jumping off point for your own research if you’re from a country like Canada or New Zealand). The rules do vary based on where you’re from, unfortunately.

So, USers, I’m talking to you.

First, let’s talk about the schengen zone.

This is a border-free area that encompasses most of Europe. At the time of this writing, it includes: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

So, in summary: a lot of countries. And a ton of countries that are high up on people’s to-travel lists.

This borderless zone works a bit like a single country when it comes to visa-free travel for USers. You can come in, travel visa-free for 90 days, and then you have to leave for at least 90 days.

90 days in.

90 days out.

Now, you can split those 90 days up as much as you want. You could come in for 30 days, leave for 10, come back in for 50 days, leave for 10, then come back for the last 10. You don’t have to do your 90 days in one fell swoop. BUT. Once you reach 90 days out of the last 180, you need to exit the schengen and wait.

Ljubljana Slovenia
Ljubljana, Slovenia.

If you were planning on jaunting around Western Europe for six months, this news can be a bit of a bummer. But here’s the good news: there are still some European countries that are not schengen. And so if you want to spend six whole months or nine whole months or two whole years exploring Europe, you can still do it while keeping the schengen laws. You’ll just need to jump out for 90+ days in another country or countries.

Non-schengen European countries currently include: Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina (where we’re currently spending our summer), Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia (the country, which is technically probably Asia, but considers itself European from what I’ve heard), Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Each of those countries have their own stay rules, but they’re easy to find. Just check their embassy websites.

Most of them tend to be around 90 days themselves. Which is convenient.

Keep in mind, though, that countries tend to consider a half-day in the country as a full day. So 90 days out means 90 full days out. Which also means you’ll probably need to plan for a buffer day on either end of your travels in order to comply with the rules.

What does that look like in practical terms?

Here’s some math:

Let’s say you spend 90 days in the schengen exploring Italy, Switzerland, and Slovenia.

The day you arrive is day one and you leave on day 90.

Now, day 90 of your schengen time also becomes day 1 in your next country. So let’s say you cross into Croatia. Now you’re allowed 90 days in Croatia, but at the end of your 90 days in Croatia, you’ve only technically been out of the schengen for 89 days. Because day 90 schengen also counted as day 1 Croatia.

Still with me?

So you would need to go to another non-schengen country for at least one full day before heading back into the schengen.

So, you could do this in a bunch of different ways:

Maybe you book 92 days in Croatia, but head across the border to Bosnia or Montenegro for a long weekend (making sure to stay out for those full extra two days) and then come back into Croatia to complete the actual 90 days you plan on spending in the country.

Or perhaps you book a month or two in Croatia and a month or two in Bosnia.

Or perhaps you zip all over the non-schengen countries for 91+ days, visiting a bunch of them.

As long as you stay out of the schengen for a full 90 days, your time resets and you are welcome to head back in.

Soca Valley
Slovenia’s Soca Valley.

If the math got a little confusing, here are some of my real itineraries to help you see how it works:

In end of 2016/into 2017 we went to:

Rome, Italy (schengen): December 5 – December 8
Taormina, Italy (schengen): December 8 – January 8
Rome, Italy (schengen): January 8 – March 2
Overnight in Villach, Austria (schengen): March 2 – 3
Exit schengen into Croatia: March 3
Total schengen days: 89

Zagreb, Croatia (not schengen): March 3 – 5
Dubrovnik, Croatia (not schengen): March 5 – May 5
Total days in Croatia: 63

(e.g. we still need 27+ days out of the schengen when we leave Croatia)

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina (not schengen): May 5 – June 5
Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina (not schengen): June 5 – August 1
Total days in Bosnia: 89 days

(Now we’ve been out of the schengen for 152 days, so we’re more than welcome back in the schengen zone.)

Ljubljana, Slovenia (schengen): August 1 – September 1
Kranjska Gora, Slovenia (schengen): September 1 – October 1
Yet-to-be decided destination within the schengen: October 1 – October 29
Total schengen days: 90

And, again, at that point we’ll need to leave the schengen zone for 90+ days. The soonest we could come back in would be January 27th.

If the idea of doing all that math yourself for your own long European stay sounds stressful, this is the calculator I use to make sure my schengen stays are a-ok.

Bosnian farm stay
A farm stay in the mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Okay, so that’s the schengen. But what about those of us who want to stay longer IN the schengen zone? Is it possible?

The answer is yes, but it does get a little more complicated and may require paperwork.

:: Some countries, like Portugal (I haven’t done this myself, so do make sure to confirm before attempting it), will allow USers to request another 90 days after their first 90 in the schengen.

Now, if you do this, that second 90-day stretch needs to be spent in Portugal itself (it’s not a free-for-all visa that allows you to jaunt around the schengen), but it is an extra 90 days. This is generally known as a tourist visa extension. And you could always contact other countries’ consulates to ask if they offer them.

:: Another way to stay longer is to get an honest-to-goodness visa.

The easiest ones to get tend to be student visas, which you can often get to study a language. So if you’ve been daydreaming about spending a year in France learning French, that’s an option to explore.

Other visas include marriage, family reunion (have a family member in another country? You might be eligible for residency), work, self-employment, retirement/non-lucrative (if you can support yourself without working via investments, pensions, or passive income), volunteering, research, artist visas, and religious work.

To find out if your country of choice offers these, you’ll need to check their embassy website or give them a call. But all these visas are fairly common in Europe.

Now, before you go the visa route, keep in mind that getting a long-stay visa comes with some requirements. Many countries want you to commit to being in their country for at least six months a year to maintain your visa. Most will need confirmation of health insurance. Some will want you to open a local bank account. And almost all will want to see proof of a place to live (be it your friend’s spare bedroom, a home you purchased, or a long-term lease you signed).

So, that, my friends, is the skinny on the schengen zone and long-term European travel and residency. Have something to add? Toss your thoughts in the comments!

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Faith July 6, 2017 - 7:54 am

This is really helpful and useful. I’ve just been wondering about how to navigate the 90 day schengen visa. Thanks so much for doing the work to share this info! :)

gigigriffis July 6, 2017 - 8:28 am

No prob!

Lynne Nieman July 6, 2017 - 8:50 am

Great info Gigi! But you forgot to mention that the UK is also a non-schengen country that you can spend 90 days in. And you kind of get 4 countries in one !

gigigriffis July 6, 2017 - 9:22 am

I actually left that one out on purpose. They have a history of turning long-term travelers away at the border (often after traumatizing them with interrogations), so I don’t feel comfortable recommending them as an option. :(

Laurie Mitchell July 7, 2017 - 7:08 am

Haha, I suspected that’s why you left the UK off the list :) Great article and I’m glad that there are some great countries nearby to explore while waiting to re-enter the schengen area.

Ken July 6, 2017 - 2:51 pm

thanks for clarifying. i’m about to head to Poland in 2 weeks, and staying for 3 months =)

gigigriffis July 6, 2017 - 10:06 pm

Have fun! I’ve heard Poland is amazing.

Jen Sotolongo July 6, 2017 - 3:40 pm

This is probably the best breakdown of the Schengen visa rules I’ve seen. Where were you two years ago when we were all confused and had to figure it out ourselves? ;)

When we left Europe in 2016, there were rumors of them creating a year-long tourist visa, but then the whole Syrian refugee crisis happened and they put it on the back burner. I’m curious whether they will reconsider now that things have settled a bit.

I also thought that Croatia was going to become part of Schengen in the next year or so. Have you heard anything about that?

gigigriffis July 6, 2017 - 10:09 pm

Haha, thanks!

Every year, I hear that Croatia is going to become Schengen, but there’s never really any definitive timeline that I can find, so I’m not sure when it will really happen. Croatia is one of several eastern countries that are bound to join the schengen eventually (I believe Romania is another) but that haven’t joined yet. It’s an excellent point, though, that people should double check to make sure the countries listed above haven’t shifted whenever they’re planning their trips. Whenever I see an actual date attached to Croatia’s joining the schengen (or any of the other non-schengen countries), I’ll try to pop back into this post and update it so that it stays accurate for those who find it over time.

And holy moly it would be AMAZING if they’d do a year-long visa option for tourists. I hope they do get back on that.

Riley January 22, 2018 - 1:13 pm

Do you have any idea if this has changed? I just talked to someone today who told me you only have to exit for one day before you can enter again?

gigigriffis January 22, 2018 - 2:43 pm

That person is wrong. :) It’s 90 days in within any 180 day period. In many Asian and South American countries, you can hop in and out for a day or two, but sadly not the schengen.

cathy January 26, 2018 - 1:32 pm

I went to the French Embassy(in Boston) to apply for a long term visa. I had all of the paper work. The guy working there said I did not need one because I can be in the Schengen countries for 90 days and then be in France for another 90 days. He wrote down the agreement. “Application del’accord sous formed d’echenge de letters de 16-31 mars 1949”. I can not find any reference to it. Everything I see on-line talks about 90-180 rule. Not sure if I should believe him. Your thoughts?

gigigriffis January 26, 2018 - 1:39 pm

I’ve heard of this, but couldn’t get anyone at the French embassy to confirm for me or tell me how to address it if I’m questioned upon leaving. If you find anything else on this, please let me know! We really wanted to take advantage of it, but since I couldn’t confirm it, I felt uncomfortable staying past the 90 days.

Haley February 20, 2018 - 7:56 am

Ok, I have been researching this for ages and I’m still so confused.
So do you mean that you get 90 days in 180, but even if you don’t use them consecutively, you still have to wait 90 days after you last day in before you can come back?
I thought it was that you get 90 days in every 180 period and then on the 181st day the clock restarts and you get another 90 days in that 180 period. So if you look at it that way you wouldn’t necessarily have to leave for a full 90 days before coming back depending on how you split up the first 90 days in.
For example, I got to Schengen on November 9th. Just stayed for that one day. Then I went to Ireland and the U.K. for 84 days. Then I came back to the Schengen and have been here for 20 days. So I have used 21 days of the 90 so far. If I stay through April, that will be my 90 days. But since i first entered the Schengen on November 9th, the 180 days ends May 8th. So If i leave after my 90 days at the end of April, wouldn’t I only have to be gone for that first part of May before I can come back, because the 180 period will reset?
I hope that made sense!
Thank you for your help!

gigigriffis February 22, 2018 - 8:08 am

As I understand it, there’s no “reset.” It’s 90 in any consecutive 180-day period. So from when you want to come back into the schengen, you need to count backward 180 days and figure out how many days you’ve been in during that 180-day period.

In your scenario, if you wanted to come back in say May 15, your November day would be outside the 180, so it wouldn’t count. But the rest of your days would count, since they were in the last 180. If you have 89 days consecutive in the schengen ending in late April, you’ll need to be out May, June, and into July.

Renee September 21, 2019 - 4:18 pm

Hello, thanks for writing this detailed article. What about this scenario:

Im an American with a long term
Visa for France, which has has to be renewed once a year in December. Let’s say in December right when it’s expiring I decide I don’t want to live in France anymore, so I leave the country, but want to spend 90 days in the Schengen. For the sake of this example we’ll say I leave France right when my visa expires and go to the Netherlands. Do you think when I leave the Netherlands airport after my stay there, they’ll look at my passport and say “Hey! the last time your passport was stamped was in the schengen (France) 12 months ago. You shouldn’t have visited our country.”

In other words, does my time living in France, which although it’s the schengen, count or not when I’m combining visits to schengen countries that I don’t hold long term stay visas for? Does my schengen 90 days only start once my France long term visa expires? That would make the most sense.

Thanks, I know this is confusing but perhaps you’ve seen or been in a similar situation.

gigigriffis September 21, 2019 - 9:01 pm

Hey – I *think* once your visa expires, you need to leave the schengen. You have technically already spent more than 90 days in the schengen on said visa, so once the visa is up, you need to leave for 90 in order to re-set your tourist time. When I wanted to go to France and Belgium before leaving Switzerland, I set it up so that my visa didn’t expire until I left the schengen. My time in France and Belgium was still covered by my Swiss residency.

Definitely worth double checking me on this because it’s not something I’ve had to deal with a bunch, but my understanding is that once your visa is done, you are obligated to leave if you’ve been in schengen more than 90 days.

Paul Fitch March 11, 2018 - 2:30 pm

Thanks! I agree that this is the clearest explanation of combining visits to Schengen and non-Schengen counties. I researched this some months ago but missed your site.
You provided some peace of mind since I’m visiting Ireland for 70 days immediately after visiting Portugal for 75 days.

Scott May 6, 2018 - 12:43 am

Great explanation. Exactly how I was told.

David May 14, 2018 - 9:39 am


thank you for this great information! I really hope you can help me here. I am in Poland at this moment for 65 days approximately. I was told by immigration authorities that if i want to stay 90 more days in Poland, I can go to a non-schengen country ( i.e., Ukraine ) and cross back again to Poland and I will have 90 more days. They claimed that US passport holders can do this in Poland normally. Have you heard of this before?

thanks a lot all the best!

gigigriffis May 14, 2018 - 9:58 am

Yep. Poland is part of the schengen, so you can leave for 90 days and then come back in for 90. Schengen is always 90 days allowed in any 180-day period.

Pat May 16, 2018 - 1:50 pm

Hi, I found your blog by accident. Thank you for the info. Please let me know if I am following this correctly. My husband and I want to spend 90 days in Italy. we can begin in Italy for 30 days, then go to 1or 2 non-Schengen countries for 30 days and then return to Italy for 60 days and head back to the US?

Thanks for your help.

gigigriffis May 16, 2018 - 3:31 pm

Yep! Just keep in mind that the day you leave the schengen counts as one full day and so does the day you come back in.

You can also just go straight for the 90 consecutive days in Italy if you want. As long as you don’t spend more than 90 days in the schgenen in any 180-day period, you’re in good shape!

Mary June 18, 2018 - 5:06 pm

I hope this question wont sound ridiculous regarding NON Schengen countries.The UK is comprised of England, Scotland,Wales and Northern Ireland. Is the rest of Ireland also non Schengen? Trying to plan a lengthy trip to Europe and stay within the guidelines. Thanks so much!

gigigriffis June 18, 2018 - 10:46 pm

Yep! But be careful about the UK. They have a reputation for turning away travelers who are jumping in and out of the schengen. There’s no real reason for it, but I know multiple people who have been mistreated and turned away at the border.

Mary June 25, 2018 - 5:37 pm

Thank you. Yikes! Hopefully they will be kind to us. What resources do you look to for lodging?T

Thanks again, your site has been very helpful in my planning. Folks have no idea what Schengen is, even those that travel!

gigigriffis June 26, 2018 - 12:11 am

I LOVE Flatio wherever it’s available (just a few cities in Europe right now, but hopefully they’ll grow) and like to find other furnished apartment rental sites when possible. If we can’t find something local, we turn to Airbnb. And if that’s not an option or if we are staying only a few days, we look at hotels, B&Bs, and hostels.

Nadya June 27, 2018 - 7:11 am

This is awesome, and so helpful! I’m super stoked to use this (hopefully soon!). Thanks for a great article

Dayna January 17, 2019 - 5:49 am

Hello, excellent article! I initially thought (from the US) that we could stay 90 days in each Schengen country, but of course that is not the case. Croatia has a welcoming border. France has also been kind to me, repeatedly. Having witnessed the French/UK borders side by side is remarkable (vive la France!). Stay FAR FAR AWAY from the UK. And beware Ireland as a common travel area with the UK. Ireland post-Brexit maybe?

I always leave us at least a week cushion on visa time, just in case. And indeed, emergency (UK) brought us this January back across continent to Croatia, as there was no other way to get out of Schengen in time (dog Jack is 60+ lbs and it is complicated, but do-able, unless you are bullied by borders for no reason). So: with a January 4 entry to Croatia, on day 89 of Schengen time, I would need to leave Croatia April 4 (90days). But can I re-enter Schengen April 4 ? I have the one day available on my last 180, but the 180 does not start again until April 5…. does the one remaining day allow April 4 entry?? I am impressed with anyone who calculates the full 90 days stays. I had managed to leave us a week or two in between without worrying until now!

Upon exit from Schengen this month, Slovenia stopped me (lovely Slovenia!), incredulous that I had been in Europe without a visa. I pointed to my entry stamp, but he kept saying those were not visas. I think he went and looked up the Schengen rules for Americans while I was pulled over, because he came back with an oration of them. Meanwhile, I risked our lives driving in winter in old car to get out of Schengen in time. No one seemed concerned with my UK X in passport, plus an annule from trying to go to Ireland directly thereafter. It could just be hassling “woman with a car” or it could be now he knows our rules, but this is too many border stops for me. I honestly don’t feel safe going to any borders without another human with an EU passport. I have overpriced tourist insurance on the car, so I presume other tourists buy cars? Gigi, has anyone ever questioned you in/out of Schengen?

This is my story, and part of the larger story that called me out here, but I sincerely hope others do not have such experiences (I have a US income, travel health insurance, polite dog in compliance with EU pet passport….). Thanks for any feedback, and happy travels.

gigigriffis January 17, 2019 - 6:41 am

Hi Dayna,

Yep! Luna and I also were denied entry to the UK for no good reason. Your Ireland story makes me nervous. We were thinking of going this summer. Did Ireland take issue because of your UK X or do they share a database with the UK? Were you told you’d have trouble visiting Ireland in future? It’s been about five years since my UK incident, but if there’s a major danger of not being let into Ireland, perhaps I should make another plan. Would love to hear more about your experience.

Per your question: Yes, unfortunately the 90-day reset usually means tacking on a weekend trip to Montenegro or Bosnia in order to not break the Croatian or schengen rules.

Rachel January 31, 2019 - 5:27 am

one question, hope you don’t mind! I entered the schengen zone August 7th, 2018 and left September 7th, 2018. Returned again September 25th and left october 19th. I was in the schengen zone for a total of 57 days. Now I want to return February 8th this year, my question is, will that count towards the 90 days or due to the three and a half month gap will my 90 days have started over? I’m American.
I appreciate the help! Thank you.

gigigriffis January 31, 2019 - 5:36 am

It’s 90 days out of any 180-day period. Since you will have been out for 90+ days (November, December, January, plus some extra days on both ends) in this scenario, your time should re-start and you’ll have a full 90 days you can spend in.

Kathryn November 14, 2019 - 9:50 am

Super late to the game, but I’m wondering if you know if I necessarily have to wait 90 days if my clock begins to reset? For example, my calendar is looking like this:
Entered Sept 27-Exit Dec 6 (71 days)
May reenter January 27-February 15 (last 19 days)

Would I need to wait until May to reenter, or could I reenter when the 180 day counter begins again on March 28, because my first day entering on September 27 begins to disappear from the last 180 days? Hopefully this makes sense haha

gigigriffis November 14, 2019 - 10:43 am

If those are your dates, I believe you’re actually over by a day (the first and last day both count as full days in each case, so your second stay is 20 days). Definitely double check that math.

Re: your question – If you knock a day off and just stay the 90, you could re-enter on March 28 and you’d have 71 allowed days (since the 19 would still be within the last 180 days).

gigigriffis November 14, 2019 - 10:43 am

This is the calculator I use. It’s good:

Ann November 18, 2019 - 1:19 pm

Gigi, your articles are very informative. I really appreciate the time you’ve put into this post. I’ve been wondering about entering Schengen and then moving on to another non-Schengen country. Can you fly from US to Europe with a one-way ticket with only the tourist visa? If so, what, typically, do you need as proof that your plan is to move on to non-Schengen at day 90 / before? Obviously, I can’t imagine customs/border control just says, ok, welcome, and we trust you to get out on time. Do you have to have a plane ticket or rail pass bought beforehand and show it?

gigigriffis November 18, 2019 - 1:58 pm

Depends on the country. The UK will sometimes check to make sure you have a ticket not only OUT of the UK, but actually back to your home country (big yikes), so flying in there is a crap-shoot that depends on which immigration official you get. As for the schengen, you can check individual country requirements, but typically I’ve found it’s enough to say I plan on taking trains to Croatia or whatever. If you’re nervous about it, you could always buy a cheap bus ticket across the border for your departure date. Even if you change plans and don’t use it, having it in your pocket could be a nice little bit of insurance in the event that you get a cranky border official.

Craig grove August 12, 2022 - 10:03 pm

Shit!!!! That doesn’t help at all. Are there some countries that are forgiving overstays, like Spain or Italy? In 2018, I overstayed in the E.U by 120 days. 221 days in total. I flew out of Barcelona, unfortunately, I had an 18-hour layover in Iceland. When my wife and I went through costumes’ the agent asked, ” What are you doing here?” You overstayed your visa by 120 days” I simply said “I didn’t know there was such a rule.” The agent replied. Don’t come back to the E.U for 6 months. My question is, what could they do? Thanks. Craig

gigigriffis August 13, 2022 - 4:12 am

Hey Craig – While it certainly does depend which immigration officer is looking at your passport, all schengen countries are going to have a problem with you overstaying if they notice the overstay. What they could do is turn you away at the border when you try to come back to Europe or even put you on a no-entry list for a period of time. It sounds like they didn’t do that in your case (since he said stay out for six months), but if that happened to me, I’d probably renew my passport so that it doesn’t come up when someone is flipping through the passport as you travel next time.


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