Europe is one of the most popular destinations for Americans, with more than 14 million traveling there each year. A trip to Europe can leave travelers amazed by the diverse cuisines, architecture, slow-paced lifestyles and, ultimately, the ability to travel easily from one country to another. While traveling to Europe is quite simple for American citizens, there are some bureaucratic rules that might influence the itinerary.
To travel to Europe – or rather, countries of the European Union and/or Schengen Area – a visa is not required. Travelers are given 90 days to explore the region, though where you are traveling exactly determines whether or not you need to go through passport control. Keep in mind that the 90 days are within a six-month period, and you must have at least three months remaining on your passport before it expires.
To get an idea of how this works, you cannot go to Italy for three months and then Spain for another three months unless you’ve completely left the region for a three-month gap in between those two visits. The same goes for most EU countries that are not in the Schengen Area.
Understanding the Schengen Area
There are currently 26 countries that fall under the Schengen Area. Once you land in one of these countries, your passport is stamped and then you are free to travel across these countries’ borders without needing to go through passport control each time.
Members of the Schengen Area are:
- Czech Republic
Of these countries, Iceland, Switzerland and Norway are not considered part of the European Union. But since they are still part of Schengen, the same border-crossing freedoms apply. A handful of countries are not technically part of the Schengen Area but have open-border agreements with the other countries:
- San Marino
- Vatican City
Understanding Countries Not in the Schengen Area
There are 28 member states of the European Union, and of those, a few are not part of the Schengen Area:
- United Kingdom
The visa requirements for these countries are exactly the same as for countries in the Schengen Area, as the EU has similar laws when it comes to travelers. The only difference is that with these countries, you cannot cross freely between them and must go through passport control before entering. For instance, if you go from Austria into Romania, you must go through passport control, and again if you enter back into any other country that’s part of Schengen.
Countries Not in Schengen or the EU
A few countries are geographically part of Europe but are not part of the EU or the Schengen Area:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Russia (western side)
- Turkey (western side)
If visitors want to enter these countries, they must follow each country’s requirements. For instance, just to transit through Belarus, American citizens must have a visa. However, a country like Kosovo does not require a visa, and Americans can stay there up to 90 days within a six-month period.
How to Plan Around This
Generally, most travelers stay within those Schengen/EU countries to avoid any complications. The best advice is to simply check each country’s requirements that you plan on traveling to before departing, so you’re 100 percent prepared. And make sure that you return back to the United States, or into a non-EU/non-Schengen country, before those three months are up.