Long Stays in Europe – A Way Around the Schengen Arrangement
The Schengen Area agreement allows Australian passport holders to travel freely through most of Continental Europe for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. That works well for most travellers, but what about those who want to stay longer?
The traditional workaround has been to leave the Schengen Area once your 90 days are up and spend the next 90 days in a European country outside the Schengen Area, and the UK, Ireland and Croatia are popular choices, but there’s another way.
Back in the 1950s Australia signed bilateral visa waiver agreements with a number of European countries. At various times the list has included Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Some of those countries have since backed out, and the agreement with France came later, but for the most part those agreements still exist, and still apply despite the restrictions that apply to Aussie travellers under the Schengen Agreement.
In essence, those visa waiver agreements allow Australian passport holders to stay in these countries without having any impact on the 90 days granted them under the Schengen Agreement. The usual period granted under the visa waiver agreements is 90 days. Used judiciously, those agreements give Australian passport holders the right to virtually unlimited travel around Europe.
While these visa waiver agreements expand the boundaries for any Aussies planning a long-term stay in Europe, using them to your advantage is not straightforward.
You need to document your travels fully.
Say you spend 90 days in the Schengen Area and then drive across the border from Italy into Austria. Under the visa waiver agreement between Australia and Austria you are entitled to stay for up to 90 days in Austria. However, since there is no border control between Italy and Austria there is no documentation in your passport to prove that you “left” the Schengen Area and “entered” Austria under the visa waiver agreement. It might subsequently appear to an immigration official that you have outstayed the 90-day limit under which you are entitled to remain in the Schengen Area. If you are deemed to be in breach and can’t prove otherwise, that’s a serious offence, with possible sanctions including a fine, deportation, a notice stamped into your passport and an entry ban.
You need to validate your movements and one way to do this is to keep all hotel and restaurant receipts and any airline, train and bus tickets.
France is a tricky case. The bilateral visa waiver agreement between France and Australia allows Australian passport holders to remain in France for three months in any six-month period. Under this agreement, it seems that if you enter another Schengen Area country other than France and stay for 30 days, you would be permitted to remain in France only for the remaining 60 days of your allowance under the Schengen Agreement. However if were to enter France from the UK, for example, and before entering any other Schengen Area country, you could stay for up to three months under the visa waiver agreement without having any time subtracted from the 90 days allowed under the Schengen Agreement.
The visa waiver agreements differ in significant areas. If you plan to make use of them you need to be crystal clear that you’re not breaking any rules. As far as most immigration officials within the Schengen Area are concerned, the right of Australia passport holders to travel freely are governed by the 90 days allowed under the Schengen Agreement. If you want to stay longer under a bilateral visa waiver agreement, you might need to prove its existence. When you have your itinerary worked out, write to the relevant embassies in Canberra and as concisely as possible spell out your plans for how long you plan to remain in their country as well as elsewhere within the Schengen Area and carry a hard copy of their response, you’re probably going to need it.
In the course of researching this topic I have letters from the German, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch embassies in Canberra. If you’d like to see any of these write to me