The Schengen Area and the 90/180 Rule

We first learned about the Schengen Area when planning what was supposed to be a five month trip through countries that we later found out were part of the Area. That’s when we stumbled across the 90/180 rule, and realised we actually couldn’t legally spent five consecutive months in the Schengen Area. 

The Schengen Area includes 26 European countries; 22 of which are in the European Union (EU) and four that participate through special treaties.

The Schengen Area establishes what is, in essence, a borderless area in terms of travel between participating countries. This makes travel in the Area less challenging in terms of customs controls and the like. 

Citizens of selected countries who are on the “A” List do not require a Visa to visit any member of the Schengen Area, or to travel within the Area. Citizens from other countries are required to obtain a Schengen Area visa. 

This site provides detailed information on requirements by country:

Countries in the Shengen Area as of 2022:  
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.

These rules make travel in the Area for the vast majority of people from A-List countries very straightforward. However, if you want to travel in Schengen Area countries for extended periods of time there is an important limitation:

The 90/180 Rule

Citizens of countries that are not members of the Schengen Area are only allowed to stay within the Area for 90 out of every 180 days. Which, as Canadians, definitely applies to us. Days count towards the 90 day total no matter what Schengen Area country (or combination of countries) that you visit. 

In addition, the 180 day period begins the moment you enter the first Schengen Zone country, whether you arrive in Italy or Estonia, the clock starts ticking. And that 180 day “clock” does not restart if you leave the area for a time then re-enter.  

As a general example, let’s say you enter a Schengen Area country on January 1. The 180 day “clock” starts immediately, and runs until July 9. You can spend only 90 days in the Area during that January 1 – July 9 period. So, if you want to stay in Europe for that entire 180 day period, you’ll need to spend 90 days in countries that are not part of the Schengen Area. 

Here’s a real world example:

We wanted to spend approximately five months (149 days in total) in Europe during the spring-summer of 2022. In order to do that here is the itinerary we planned:

22 days in the UK – not in the Area

62 days in Italy – in the Area

42 days in Albania – not in the Area

21 days in Greece – in the Area

In this case, we spent a total of 83 days in the Schengen Area between our entry into Italy (from the UK) on April 5 and our departure from Greece on August 7.

The “clock” started running on April 5, meaning we could only spend 90 days in the Schengen area between April 5 and October 2.

Because we stayed 83 days by August 7, we could only be in a Schengen Area country (or countries) for seven more days between August 7 and October 2.

As of October 3 the 90/180 day “clock” restarts, so we could return to Schengen Area countries again on that day.

Complicated? A bit, especially at first, but once you get the hang of it it’s actually pretty straightforward. If you’re looking to do some long term travelling, it’s important to really understand this and plan your trips accordingly. 

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