Paperwork You Need to Travel to Europe

As American tourists, trips to Europe and countries in the European Union are relatively easy. Many airlines and international airports have affordable flights to major European cities. Some of the cheapest airports to fly into include Keflavik in Iceland, Milan Malpensa in Italy, and Dublin in Ireland.

If you’re planning your first trip to Europe, then you will need to know basics like the Schengen 90/180 rule and visa requirements for Europe. Long-term travel, such as 90 or more days, is quite different from a week-long trip.

Do I need a visa to visit Europe from USA?

When You DON’T Need a Visa

You do not need a visa if you are visiting one of the 26 countries in the Schengen area for fewer than 90 days. The Schengen area includes the following countries:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • The Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

The Schengen 90/180 rule states that American tourists cannot stay in the area for longer than 90 days in a 180-day period. For example, you can stay in France and Spain for 45 days each.

These 26 countries act as a single state when it comes to border laws and regulations. Meaning, you will not go through the border control or receive a passport stamp when you travel within the area. Likewise, your 90-day countdown does not restart when you go to a different Schengen country.

I flew into Iceland from New York and went through the checkpoint process. I also went through passport check when I flew to Ireland and then the Netherlands since I was flying into, out of, and back into Schengen countries. But, when I flew to Paris from Amsterdam and later into Madrid, I was able to completely bypass the process as if I was a EU citizen.

When You DO Need a Visa

You can apply for a visa to stay in the Schengen are for a longer period. The Savvy Backpacker has a series of articles here about staying in Europe for longer durations. Types of visas include:

  • Student visas, which require full-time enrollment but also permit part-time employment.
  • Long-term tourists visas, which require you to prove you have sufficient cash (like $30k) in a bank account and will not permit you to work.
  • Self-employment visas, which allow you to earn an income from freelancing or remote work.
  • Work visas, which has many requirements including a contract from the employer as well as proof of speaking the language, accommodations, and departure at the end of the visa period.

Alternatively, if you want to stay in Europe for longer than 90 days, then you should consider staying in non-Schengen EU countries like the United Kingdom, Ireland, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Cyprus to adhere to the law. Each of these countries also have time restraints for American travelers. For instance, you can only stay in the United Kingdom for 180 days without a visa.

Do I need a passport to travel to Europe?

Yes, and it must remain current during the length of your stay. If you arrive to a country with a passport that expires before your scheduled departure, then border control will not let you enter the country.

It takes at least six weeks to renew your passport and sometimes up to 10 weeks to obtain a new one. There are expedite fees to receive your travel documentation sooner.

Do I need additional documentation?

Some tourists book their entire trip before leaving home. Other jet-setters prefer the flexibility of one-way tickets and last-minute deals.

However, most countries in the European Union require each tourist to show proof onward travel when going through customs. Travelers will need to show proof of exit within the visa-free limits. This is evidence that they will obey the 90/180 rule.

If you do not have evidence of when you plan to leave the country, then you may not be allowed to enter.

When I flew into Belfast with a one-way ticket, I almost had to buy a flight on the spot. Border control asked when I was leaving the country, where I was going, and to see my plane ticket. Luckily, I wrote in my phone calendar “Flight to Amsterdam” that was consistent with the first two questions and claimed I could show the ticket because I couldn’t connect to the WiFi.

Travel Document Checklist

  • U.S. passport
  • Return/exit flight information
  • Visa if staying for more than 90 days

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