Here's how long U.S. citizens can stay in each European country without a visa

So you loved your trip to Europe so much that you don't want to leave, and you find yourself wondering how long you can stay in Europe without a visa if you're a U.S. citizen. Or maybe you're considering a long-distance relationship and want to base your love possibilities on the possibility of a visit. Regardless, you are not alone. Just searching for "how to stay in Europe as a US citizen" yields thousands of results. While there is a lot of information out there about visa rules and restrictions, the wording is complex and things vary from country to country. With the risk of fines and deportation, this isn't something you really want to guess. So, the rules are as follows:

Schengen Area

Although we sometimes think of Europe as a single unit, not every country within the EU operates in the same way, especially when it comes to visas and travel restrictions. The Schengen Area (also known as the 26 countries within Europe that operate as one) includes:

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

You can move freely between any of these countries as if they were one giant unit because they all share the same border policies and once you first enter the Schengen area, you are basically (U.S. persons) are considered travelers from any or all of these countries. If you want to visit any of these countries visa-free, you must leave after 90 days - this time limit does not restart when you enter another country, as they are all in the Schengen area. So, for example, if you enter Europe via Portugal, you need to stay there for 30 days before traveling to, say, Spain, and then you have 60 days to leave the Schengen area. You then have to leave the Schengen area for 90 days, after which you can return for another 90 days.

Non-Schengen area countries


However, although this is the standard rule, this is not always the case. If you are traveling to a European non-Schengen member state (such as the UK) , there are different rules: in the UK, for example, you can stay up to 180 hours without a visa. In contrast, in Belarus you can only stay for 30 days without a visa.

Again: although you can only stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days, these days only count towards the 180-day period. In other words, every six months, your travel allowance resets and you get an additional 90 days. So, in theory, if you wanted to stay in Europe for more than 90 days, you could travel to the UK, a non-Schengen country, stay for 90 days, and then return directly via the Schengen area.

Schengen Area countries with agreements with the United States


Now, here's the loophole: The following countries have so-called "bilateral agreements" with the United States:

  • France
  • Denmark
  • Poland

These agreements mean that U.S. citizens can stay in these countries for an additional 90 days without a visa. In order to take advantage of this, you must fly directly from the Schengen Area to one of the countries and stay for 90 days. Alternatively, you can stay in one of these countries for 180 days.

During this time, you can't work or leave, and according to the many message boards for travelers exploiting this loophole, it's technically up to the Border Patrol to decide whether you're allowed to stay the extra time, as efforts have been made recently to reverse this Regulations – so don’t make plans without checking with the embassy and border.

Whatever you do, make sure you strictly adhere to the restrictions as you will be subject to fines and deportation. In some cases, you may even be banned from future travel within Schengen countries, so if your goal is to spend more time in Europe, following the rules will make it easier for you to do so.