Long-term Backpacking in Europe is Dead!

We are looking for a new home after being forced to leave Europe

We are looking for a new home after being forced to leave Europe

Our six to eight months plans of travel in Europe have just been cut down to less than three months. With the Schengen agreement in the European Union, non-EU citizens are only allowed to be in Europe for a total of 90 days.

Admittedly it is my fault for not researching thoroughly prior to coming to Europe but we expected that we could just travel to another country once our tourist visas expired in each country. Unfortunately, we will have to leave the Schengen region entirely and stay out for 90 days before we can return. That means we only have about 7 weeks left in Europe. 🙁

I have discovered several travelers that have over-stayed the 90 days without repercussions but the risks are too large. We could be banned from the EU, face fines, imprisonment or even be deported to our home countries. The last one wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that my wife and I are from different countries.

I am looking into possibilities to extend our stay such as going to a language school and I have always wanted to apply for Hungarian citizenship (my father was Hungarian), but I don’t think anything will help our current situation.

I really find it amazing that in this globally interconnected world of long term travelers, expatriates and internet based work, we still have ridiculous travel restrictions. How long will it take countries around the world to finally wake up to the new realities. The idea of nation states have outlived their usefulness. Can’t we all be part of the same planet?

If anyone has any ideas or recommendations for our visa problems please let me know. I would love to hear any ideas. It looks like we will be going to Turkey, Egypt or Morocco next instead of Italy and Spain like previously planned.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

36 Responses to Long-term Backpacking in Europe is Dead!

  1. Alan says:

    Buzzkill! Everything happens for a reason, right? Maybe you were meant to travel to Turkey (or Egypt or Morocco), and this is a sign of the world conspiring to make that happen. I wasn’t aware of the Schengen Agreement–really interesting.

  2. Oops! Yep, a long stay in Europe should be planned well, def including the Schengen.

    We did get a long stay visa ( BIG pain to get) , BUT it is really easy to get around and still just use a tourist visa.Many just go to UK & IRL for a while, but there are many places to go. You will LOVE Turkey & Morocco and both can be very cheap.

    The great thing about long term travel ( learned during our 5 years of non-stop travel) one stays very flexible and easily move to plan b, or c or d etc. And like Alan mentions above, things always happen for a reason and you might be surprised at how well it turns out .

    Good luck.

    Getting a student visa may help, but might also be more of a pain at this point.
    .-= soultravelers3´s last blog ..Family Travel Belgium =-.

  3. Angel says:

    As you know, we find all kinds of surprises while traveling abroad. It’s disappointing to have to change plans for reasons that we don’t agree with. I recommend that you go back to basics and revisit your main goal for your long-term backpacking journey. See if you can still accomplish it with your detour to Turkey, Egypt, and/or Morocco. Adjust and continue if you can do it. If you can’t then you may want to take a closer look at your goal.

    Our plans in life as well as our journey should be dynamic and flexible.

  4. Carl says:

    Wow. Since I live in Beijing and am more Asia focused these days, I had no idea. This must affect a lot of people who simply want to live and travel (not work) in Europe for an extended period. How hard is it to get a long-stay visa?

    I’ll have to do some research and write a post — unless somebody more knowledgeable would like to do a guest post.
    .-= Carl´s last blog ..Ignore the smog- and exercise =-.

  5. John says:

    Thanks for the comment. You are right. It is not the end of the world for us, just a huge change of plans.

    Maybe the world does need us in a different place. 🙂 Thanks for the positive spin on this!

    @SoulTravellers3 Yes, the student visa doesn’t look possible from within the country. I guess we will just have to move on.

    @Angel We don’t really have plans or goals with our travels but we are not too keen on moving every month or so. We were definitely hoping to spend a few months in each EU location before moving on but that seems impossible. My wife and I don’t really like regular travelling. We want to live in each country for a while. That is now very difficult in the Schengen region.

    @Carl It appears that long stay visas have to be arranged well in advance and it sounds like they are not so easy to come by. I would love to read your post when it is ready!

  6. Anil says:

    I would definitely try to get citizenship – then you could perhaps apply for residency for your wife as well giving you both long term visa solutions for the Schengen states. If you do end up in Turkey though, let me know, I’m based out of here for a few months…

  7. Emily says:

    I know, it really stinks! It works the same way in the other direction–a friend of mine from London has her own business that she can operate from anywhere, and she decided to come spend the summer in the States since she began dating a guy who lived here. She came to love it here so much and was offered a job, but had to head home after 90 days per that agreement. She’s there now trying to get her visa so she can come back and work here.

    Makes me really sad, because I would love to go backpacking for a few months over there. I wonder why they have that rule. I really wish I had a European parent! A friend I grew up with has lived in London for a few years because her dad is a French citizen and she has dual citizenship. I have another friend with a French dad, and she’s thinking of moving to Paris just because she can without a visa. Good for them, but not fair for me! 🙂
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Photo Essay- Perugia- Italy–City of Arches =-.

    • John says:

      Hi Emily,

      Thanks for the comment. It is disappointing that it is taking so long for governments to catch up to the new work realities. I understand the need for security checks but why stop travellers from spending money in a country for longer than 90 days. All of this protectionism is only a few decades old. We seem to get more greedy the richer we get.

  8. Earl says:

    Well, I know the change in plans is a bit of a pain, but I’ll be looking forward to hopefully meeting up with you in Turkey! I don’t know of any specific ways around the Schengen issue as I’ve never stayed in Europe for more than 3 months at a time…
    .-= Earl´s last blog ..The Day Blueberry Yogurt Saved My Life =-.

  9. Phil says:

    The Schengen agreement is 25 years old (and some areas, like Benelux, have had it even longer)! This kind of arrangement is no different than us Europeans visiting america! We can only stay for 90 days on a tourist visa (as was pointed out earlier). I am always surprised when people are surprised at this! I never thought on such a world-traveller’s site as this to read the same thing.

    Most places also have an annual quota – you cannot spend more than 6 months (minus a day) in a calendar year in the region/country. Be aware of that as well. Its not like you can pop over to Morocco for the day and expect to spend another 3 months in Europe.

    Anyway – I’m sure you’ll find something else to do 😉 The world is a big place! (Be aware that some places have even shorter stay limits than Europe!)
    .-= Phil´s last blog ..In Remembrance of Lolly =-.

    • John says:


      Yes, it is my fault for not checking. Hungary just joined Schengen a few years ago so it didn’t even cross my mind that there would be a problem, but now I have learned my lesson. 🙁

      I understand your point about the US, but that is only one country. The Schengen Area covers 25 countries. A ninety day limit out of 180 days on 25 countries doesn’t seem so wise to me. I guess I am used to the visa runs in Asia and South America so I never expected it to be like this in Europe. All of my previous visits were less than 90 days so I never really tested the limits.

  10. I’m sorry to hear this messing up your plans. The reasoning behind Schengen, though, is actually quite cool: It allows you to travel within the member countries as if you WERE in a federal state like the USA. There is generally no border control, for example, when traveling by train or car. You only notice you are changing countries because of a sign saying so! If you’re traveling by plane within Schengen, you can do so without a passport if you have a national ID from one of the member states. You also don’t have to pass through passport control when reaching your destination.
    As a (negative) consequence, though, visa permits are limitied within the Schengen zone. I’m totally with you hoping that this will change soon, because we really have to look beyond the old concept of nation states that’s losing its relevance in these times.

    One more thing, you might want to check out Croatia as a possible destination. While I don’t know about its internet infrastructure, it’s a very beautiful country!
    .-= Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist´s last blog ..The UnProductive Night Owl- An Experiment =-.

  11. John says:

    Greetings Fabian,

    Leaving the Schengen is definitely not the end of the world. We just prefer to stay in one location for a longer time rather than constantly moving. It is nice to skip the border checks though.

    I haven’t really considered Croatia but I will give it a look. Thanks!

  12. I too prefer to stay a longer time in one place than to move permanently… hope you’ll find a great new country! 🙂
    .-= Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist´s last blog ..The UnProductive Night Owl- An Experiment =-.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Excellent suggestions above, especially Croatia. And def. get that Hungarian passport!

    Yes Schengen is an agreement that was signed during a world with less porous borders. Now if only the EU could have something more like ASEAN, that would be great – more flexible, less threatening to the individual cultures and currencies of the region.

    My husband’s English so the Schengen doesn’t directly apply to us, still there will be hassles for permits if we want to spend an extended period of time in my Sicilian studio. But I understand the reasoning behind their policy. It’s just something we prepare for.

  14. John says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Long time no talk. How have you been?

    Yes, the Hungarian visa will help a lot.

    We still don’t have definite plans on where we are going but Turkey seems highly probable right now.

  15. sham says:

    why do other countries file legislation that are really strict and are more so dumb and unsolicited? i just wonder..
    .-= sham´s last blog ..Miami River’s Revelations =-.

  16. John says:

    Hi Sham,

    It has become a minor inconvenience to my wife and I but overall I think it is a positive step in the right direction towards a borderless world. It is nice that there are no longer any border checks between Schengen countries. Also, the vast majority of travellers go to Europe for less than 90 days so they will never experience any problems.

    Someday countries around the world will start to realize the importance of accommodating long term travellers. There are too many of us and the phenomenon is exploding.

  17. Mathew Carley says:

    In some countries (my experience is with Finland) applying for residency can give you the “right to reside” – you’d need an address and all that, but with a piece of paper that says “I’ve applied to live in this country and I’m merely waiting for a result” you border guards can’t really say no in the event that you do need/want to leave the Schengen zone at some random time.

    Just don’t give the immigration authorities your passport – all you need to get around this is to say that it’s your only ID and given that many EU states require people to carry ID on them at all times and that you are subject to be searched at random, they can’t say no either.

    As you seem to be Canadian, France would be a good option for you: Portugal is good for Brazilians and Spain is good for most other South/Central American countries… This info may help, it may not… good luck.

  18. Thats a bit of a bummer. I’ll be in Europe the beginning of next year. Was planning on doing more han 3 months. THere looks like there are a few different options – I’ll probably end up hanging around Turkey for a while

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment Anthony.

      We are going to Turkey next month so that is our plan as well. You can be in Schengen for 90 days out of 180 so if you go to the middle east, Eastern Europe, the UK or even Africa, it might be less of a burden. Good luck with your travels!

  19. Kevin says:

    Hi John,

    I agree these restrictions are out of date, but they exist and we have to live with them as they are.

    A quick and easy way to get another 90 days extension in the Schengen area of Europe is to take the train (or plane) over to London. You could stay a day or two if you wanted.

    Then travel back to the continent. You should then be given another 90 days in your passport.
    Reason is that the UK is not part of the Schengen area.

    • John says:

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the comment.
      Actually, you can’t just leave the Schengen area and get another 90 days. It is a total of 90 days out of 180 days. If you spend 90 days in Schengen, then you must spend at least 90 days out.

  20. Cedric says:

    Hi John. It’s my first time to visit your blog, and yeah, I agree with what you said about countries policies about visas and the number of days visitors can stay there are pretty dated. Will be following this blog regularly. 🙂

  21. Ana says:

    These restrictions, while understandable from a security standpoint back in the day, are totally out of date now. Let’s hope in the internet-connected world we live in now, with growing numbers of location-independent workers, these policies will be looked at again. It is frankly stupid to prevent long-term people from spending their money in your countries. I have thought it is stupid since I first heard of the Schengen and I say it again: You must change with the times. Long-term travelers spend money! Don’t you want it???

  22. Dan says:

    Yeah, I agree that the 90 days out of 180 days limit for non-EU citizens is frustrating.

    As far as I’m aware, New Zealanders are the only non-EU citizens who aren’t affected by this rule, as they can spend up to 90 days in EACH of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland (plus Hungary if final Schengen destination), though the normal 90/180 limit applies if visiting Schengen countries not in the list above. Found this out when reading this Wikipedia article – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_in_the_European_Union

    More info at http://www.delaus.ec.europa.eu/newzealand/eu_guide/faqsvisas.htm and http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/destinations/europetips.shtml

  23. Kevin says:

    Hi John,

    I think one of the reasons for this EU Schengen 90 day restriction is that 90 days is the fairly standard period that countries throughout the world tend to grant. If you go to the US you only get a maximum of 90 days. It’s what they call “reciprocity” if Ive spelt it right. We do to you, as you do to us…

    I agree 90 days is far too little for such a large region as the EU. But the thinking behind much of the visa policies of the world’s countries is based upon the concept of serving the conventional tourist who only goes away for a couple of weeks, or maybe 4-6 weeks or so at most. Thus they think 90 days is being generous enough.

    I wonder also whether things will improve… I have to say I fear it could be going in the opposite direction. Governments are ever more paranoid about terrorism and trying to control and monitor travel even more than in the past.

    On the practical side re travel in Europe, you can travel in Eastern Europe without the Schengen restrictions. Each country in E.Europe has its own visa rules, but it will give you more time in Europe in total than you would have by staying in the Schengen area.

    Also, Eastern Europe is much cheaper than Schengen. When I lived in Berlin I used to travel a lot throughout Eastern Europe as it was so close and cheap to get to as well as very cheap when you got there. I didnt go near expensive Western Europe much for years.

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment Kevin,

      My surprise came because Hungary was only recently added. I should’ve know better, but it was only a couple of years before, that entering Hungary was leaving Schengen. It didn’t even cross my mind that we would have troubles. I know better know though!

      Most countries with 90 day restrictions, allow you to leave and return for another 90 days. In Schengen, it is 90 days out of 180. That is completely silly in my view. With all the digital nomads and long-term travelers in the world, I can’t really see the benefit of those archaic rules anymore. People can work online from anywhere they want now. I wonder how long it will take governments to wake up to that fact.

  24. Kevin says:

    ps. John… another thing re my earlier comment about leaving Schengen and then getting another 90 days straight away. I know someone from Australia who did get this granted, though the reason was that he was denied entry into Uk on arrival from Schengen and was just sent back, as they suspected he might be trying to find work there.

    Actually that might be a good tip… take the train or plane from Schengen to London and ask them about job opportunities when you get to the border post. That way youll get send back and get another 90 days!

    Only thing is it might go wrong and you could get sent back home…

  25. Dave says:

    You are confusing the Schengen Zone and Europe. You will have to leave the Schengen Zone after 90 days, but you can still stay in Europe. UK, Ireland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and many others are in Europe but not in Schengen. So you could spend 90 days in Schengen, 90 days in Croatia, UK, Ireland (for example), then back to Schengen again for another 90 days. You could in theory spend years in Europe.

    • John says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, “Europe” is broader than Schengen, but many of the countries we had planned to travel to were in Schengen. We learned our lesson though. We will definitely plan better the next time we arrive.

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