Almost Detained, Still Following the Law!

We are writing this post back in the loving arms of our favorite EU country, Croatia, after what could have been one of our very worst and expensive travel days. Today, our train came to the Slovenia/Croatia border and we were threatened by 5 immigration officers with detainment. Never lackadaisical about travel planning, it was one of those surreal moments where one thinks, “How could this even be happening? TO US?!”

Let me begin by saying this: the Schengen Visa is shit. Although Europe looks at it as a blessing, for travelers like us, it is a pain in the ass. Many complain, so let me do it too. Europe is simply too encompassing of an area to explore within a 90 day time frame.

Our first issue with the Schengen was from our own ignorance. Growing up we constantly heard stories of people who traveled throughout Europe for 6/9/12 months. We arrived in Portugal and thanks to a random article popping up on Facebook on our first day in Europe, we quickly learned that we only had 90 days before we had to leave the Schengen area. This was news to us, and we figured if we were uninformed of the law, others may be too. So we educated ourselves by studying the law, reading travel forums, and we planned accordingly. As “Logistic Lovers,” we quickly put together a blog post to help promote awareness of the Schengen Visa.

Most travelers probably enter the EU, stay and visit the Schengen area countries, and leave before their 90 days are up. The problem occurs when you leave the Schengen and return back. The law states you get a 90 day visa stay for every 180 days. From what we understood and how the law is stated, the days do not have to be consecutive. This is where things get confusing!

During our first 90 day stay, we left the Schengen to spend 21 days in the U.K. Therefore, we had EU days remaining and we arrived in Hungary on December 13th. Our next 90 days rolled over on December on 21st when we were already in the EU. This would come to bite us in the butt later as we didn’t have a passport stamp to reflect this.

Our Situation

Date of 1st entry: 06/23/15, 180 days later = 12/19/15
Date of 1st exit: 08/06/15, Total = 45 Days
Date of 2nd entry: 08/27/15
Date of 2nd exit: 10/02/15, Total = 37 Days
Date of 3rd entry: 12/13/15, 45 + 37 + 7 (12/13-12/19) = 89 days

Next 180 day automatically starts on: 12/20/15
Date of 3rd exit: 03/18/16, Total = 90 Days

Based on our entry and exit dates for the 360 day period we stayed a total of 179 days. This was within the 90 day allotted limit for both 180 time frames  The discrepancy is with the fact that based on the passport stamps we stayed 97 days in a row (12/13/15-03/18/16). This is where the immigration officers get confused.

The Law

In the CONSOLIDATED version of the Handbook for the processing of visa applications and the modification of issued visas based on: COMMISSION DECISION C(2010) 1620 final. The law states:

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Part 2, Section 7.9

The biggest problem with the Schegen Visa is that the law does not correlate with what is actually occurring out “in the field.” Immigration officers are strictly looking at LATEST entry visa stamps ONLY. They are not concerned about the 1st entry date or the 180 day period.

We assume that with the current refugee situation that spans across Europe, these immigration officers don’t have a lot of patience right now. In fact, as we tried to explain our understanding of the law, we were met with rude, irrelevant remarks. It was very unnerving to state, “Sir, let me explain. We had left the EU,” only to be silenced multiple times with, “Thees NOT U-nite States.” (What does that have to do with anything?!) At one point, an officer told us to gather our bags because we owed 800 € in fines for overstaying 4 days in the EU.

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This was the first time we ever experienced nastiness from being Americans in Europe!

However, armed with knowledge of the law, we gathered all our (false) confidence, stood our ground, and continued to state, “No, that’s not what the law says.”

At one point the exchange sounded like this:

Harry: “No, that’s what the law says.” 

Immigration officer: “No!

Harry: “Yessssss.”

Immigration: “Nooo!”

Harry: “Yes.”

Audrey (nervously): “We weren’t trying to break the law, sir. We left the EU.”

We’re not sure what finally convinced them, but one of the officers stamped our passports, turned, and left.  It wasn’t until the train started moving again that together we let out a sigh of relief.

Takeaways

Our argument stems from the example included in the CONSOLIDATED version of the Handbook for the processing of visa applications and the modification of issued visas based on: COMMISSION DECISION C(2010) 1620 final. The last sentence in the first paragraph below indicates that the next 180-day period will automatically start after the initial 180-day period ended. The way we interpret the law is:

  1. The 1st entry date determines the initial AND following 180 day periods.
  2. Within each 180 day period you’re allotted 90 days of unlimited entry and exit not to exceed 90 days.
law.1
Excerpt from the official handbook

Finally, no where in the guidance does it state that a passport needs to be stamped with an entry and exit stamp within the 90 day period. It simply states that, “Existing entry and exit stamps in the submitted travel document should be verified by comparing the dates of entry and exit to establish that the person concerned has not already exceeded the maximum duration.” In order for our scenario to have been trouble-free at the Slovenian/Croatian border we would have needed to make a visa run out of the Schengen area on 12/19/15. This would have then shown that we were within the Schengen  for only 90 days.

The problem with attempting a visa run on day 90 is that you may not be allowed entrance back into the Schengen area on the that day because your time will have expired on the same day. This could cause you an unexpected overnight outside the Schengen area. Also, depending on where you’re located, making a visa run could be quite expensive in transportation expenses alone.

Our Advice

Even though we were within the guidance of the law we recommend that you make sure to get your passport stamped in a way that EASILY illustrates that you stayed within the 90 day allotted time frame. Otherwise, you may have a very nasty, costly border crossing or even risk getting detained.

Do you have any Schengen horror stories or tips to share?

 

 

0 thoughts on “Almost Detained, Still Following the Law!”

  1. So sorry to hear that this happened! I almost got into some trouble when I was backpacking through Europe as I was using countries like Bosnia to technically extend my stay as they’re not part of the Schengen visa area, and then would hop back in a few days later. This was fine, but when I took the train into Bosnia they stamped my passport wrong as the date they had was a year ahead (so 2013 instead of 2012). I had no problems until I flew into Amsterdam & the customs officer was looking through my stamps. He asked me about the stamp and I was horrified since I had no idea what to do or how to explain it. After a few minutes of silence (and panic on my end), he hands me back my passport and says with a stone face “You are from the future.” I died with laugher haha!

    1. Linz,
      Sorry for the late reply. Your story was very funny and you are so lucky that you ended up with a customs officer that had a sense of humor too. God bless those people! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Uh yea, so that is pretty scary!! And you guys seem so well prepared on the subject. Thanks for the write-up, we are now in the know. I can’t wait to get out there and long-term travel, but it’s things like this that I’m not looking forward to. Although, if we keep following you maybe we won’t have to. We will learn through your experiences 😊

    1. Hey Dang Travelers,
      Apologies for the late response. Yes, this situation was very scary. Especially with the whole “it’s their word against ours” problem! We are lucky it ended up working out in the end. But again, they border patrol officers are simply looking at states and dates…NOTHING ELSE! Thank you for following along.

  3. And here I thought that I was the only American that got harassed and yelled at by immigration officers! I agree that the Schengen visa is total crap. From my experience, it’s pretty much just completely made up by whatever officer you happen to talk to that day.

    1. We’re sorry you also had an unnerving experience at the border. Immigration officers can be very intimidating, and it’s a scary experience when it’s their word against yours and a lot of (YOUR) money is at stake. Sadly, we also think the comments about being Americans was very irrelevant and inappropriate. It was the first time in Europe that someone had made us feel bad for holding an American passport. When things like this happen, the best thing to do is share your experience with others in the hope that it won’t happen to a fellow traveler.

  4. Schengen and EU are different areas with different regulations and it gets very tricky because my non-European nationality/passport allows me 90/180 days in Schengen but also only 90/180 in EU. Which means that I cannot just leave Schengen to another EU country and re-enter, but must leave Schengen AND Eu.
    Tips= countries like Moldova and Macedonia are easy to get to that are bordering Schengen or EU but are not Schengen or EU!

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