Note: This post is written from the perspective of a US citizen on a travel visa. Work and student visas are different, and to make things more complicated, Schengen rules differ depending on nationality, so please check your own country’s visa policies to see how (or if) Schengen applies to you.
So there is this thing in Europe called the Schengen Agreement. It makes traveling in the European Union easier since, once you get through border control of a participating country (e.g. Spain), you can travel through the others (e.g. France) without passport checks (sort of like interstate travel in the US). Most of the EU countries have signed it (major exceptions being Ireland and the UK where, not coincidentally, I happen to be right now). Sounds good, right? Well, there is a downside for long term travelers like myself. US citizens can only spend 90 days total out of a moving 180 day window in the Schengen countries. Otherwise, you are subject to fines, deportation and banning from the EU. Not good. Basically, exceed the 90 days and you become an illegal alien and are treated accordingly. If you are lucky (or pretty), you might get a lenient immigration officer who will let you skate with a warning on a short overstay, but that is a risky play. When I left the Netherlands on Wednesday for Northern Ireland, the immigrations officer spent a while looking at my passport, looking at the calendar, then looking at the passport again. I knew exactly what he was doing – counting the days. I also knew that I was fine, but I am getting close to the limit. Really close. I have two days left. Two days for Paris. Sigh. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but I had to make a few adjustments along the way and those days had to come from somewhere. Paris was the last stop, so it got the short end of the stick. I need to be in Paris on Monday, August 6th, to catch my flight to St. Petersburg, which means the earliest I can fly into the city is the 5th. I would get about 24 hours there. Enough time to find my hostel, check in, head to the Champs-Elysées, take a few photos, eat, sleep, wake up the next day, check out of the hostel and head back to the airport. I suppose I could do without the sleep, but even then, it just doesn’t seem worth it. Sadly, I think I’m going to treat Paris like a layover on this trip, flying in the morning of the 6th, and just seeing it from the airport. Je suis désolé, Paris. I know you are an amazing city but I am neither lucky nor pretty enough to risk staying longer. I’ll catch you next time.