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!
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 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.
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!”
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.
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:
- The 1st entry date determines the initial AND following 180 day periods.
- Within each 180 day period you’re allotted 90 days of unlimited entry and exit not to exceed 90 days.
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.
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?