When we tell people we visited Europe for seven months, we get mixed responses – “Are you allowed to stay that long?” … “Why didn’t you stay longer if you could?”

We felt like seven months was a good amount of time to do plenty of exploring, and after we’d been away for that long, we were ready to get back to our tiny home on wheels.

There are a few rules you’ll need to consider if you’re planning a European trip that will affect where you can stay and for how long.

What Is The ‘Schengen Zone’?

When we started planning our trip to Europe, we learned about the Schengen Zone. About half of the countries in Europe are part of the Schengen Zone, and the membership can change at any time. Here’s the full list.

Once you’ve crossed customs into the Schengen Zone, you can travel between countries without having to show your passport or go through customs. We crossed country borders from France to Germany, Germany to Austria, and Poland to the Czech Republic without speaking with a customs officer.

It was nice to make a last-minute decision to cross a border by land to visit a country for a day, knowing that we wouldn’t be held up at a border crossing (we did this both from France to Germany and from Germany to Austria on 2 different occasions).

How long can someone stay in the Schengen Zone?

The downside to the Schengen Zone arrangement for visitors is that you can only stay for three months in a 6-month period. When you enter a country in the Schengen Zone, the customs officer wants to be sure that the time you plan to exit will equate to less than 90 days within the previous six months.

This doesn’t mean that you could count January to June as six months and July -December as six months, then stay from April-October as 2 x 90-day visits in two- six-month periods – that’s not how it works. It’s a rolling six months counted back from the day you plan to exit.

Here’s how to count 90 days in the Schengen Zone (and how it worked for us: )

  • April to mid-May pet sitting in the UK (not Schengen)
  • Month 1 & 2 in Schengen (France and Switzerland)
  • A month out of Schengen (the UK again, and a trip to Israel)
  • Month 3 in Schengen (Poland, Czech Republic, Germany)
  • A month in Croatia (at that time, it was not in Schengen)

Many people who travel to Europe for an extended stay will start in the Schengen countries for three months, then move to non-Schengen countries for three months. Once their initial 6-month period has expired, they can go back to the Schengen Zone countries for three months.

We had to go back into the Schengen Zone for one night while traveling from Croatia to Berlin, Germany, to catch our overseas flight back to the USA. It didn’t raise any concerns with the border officer since we were traveling through and had an outbound flight the next day.

What happens if you overstay your Schengen Visa?

There are varying opinions and experiences from people who have overstayed their Schengen Visa.

We’ve read stories about people being warned for overstaying an entire week and others who were not allowed to visit the Schengen Zone for five years because of miscalculating their 90 days and overstaying by just one day.

I’m sure there are many factors to account for, but we weren’t interested in taking any chances with our ability to visit Schengen Zone countries again.

Thankfully, transportation in and out of the Schengen zone is fairly simply, and there are lots of other places to see. We took trains and planes during our time over in Europe. Here’s how we decided when a plane or a train was the best option for our next travel day!

The length of your trip (and who you’re traveling with) will also dictate the type of luggage you need to bring with you. Here’s the best airplane luggage that we settled on for our family of five, and what considerations when into making that choice.

Our Family Review of Europa Park, Germany
How To Decide Where To Visit In Europe