Yankees need apply: what happens when you overstay your visa in Europe/Schengen
Returned to the USA
I did it. I decided to quit my job and sell my house in Baltimore to travel to Europe for an indefinite amount of time to discover my true self (as one does, when they find themselves developing unhealthy obsessions with movies such as, Love Actually ).
In preparation, of course, I did some research. So, how long was I actually allowed to stay in the EU without, say, getting married? Do a Google search and anyone can easily find out, three months. Yes, a tourist visa for a U.S. citizen traveling to Europe is three months (the same travel visa we grant them). This is called a "tourist visa," and is automatically granted upon entry at immigration, with only your passport. So naturally, after receiving this information (as any overly optimistic and romantically inclined individual seeking a great escape may think), I wondered "But is it really just three months?" Yes. Yes, it is. And I have the deportation papers to prove it.
Have you met the Schengen area? If not, allow me to introduce you. The Schengen area is a group of (I believe) 25 countries who share visa travel requirements. If you are an American traveling to any country of the Schengen area (which includes the majority of the EU) you are allowed to be in that area for 3 months (straight, or, 3 months of any 6 month period). It doesn't matter how many countries you travel to within the Schengen area, they are all considered the same under the tourist visa. In order to be allowed re-entry into any country in this area, you must have remained outside of the Schengen area for at least 3 months (If you have already used up your three month limit). (Schengen Area countries)
So that information can be found anywhere online, but what you will also find online, is personal accounts telling you different. Some people say they have traveled in and out of the area with no problems, that no one ever stopped them or anyone they knew. Some people post that you only have to leave and get your passport stamped in Turkey and then you can come back. Some people say they never stop Americans.
I was traveling to Madrid. With so many people posting personal accounts of being in Spain, traveling in and out, never having a problem, staying there for over a year, I thought, "Eh, it'll be fine!" As long I wasn't trying to work illegally, and minding my own tapas and cañas consuming self, I wouldn't have a problem.
So I went to Madrid. I rented an apartment and I enrolled in a part-time CELTA class to become certified to teach English.
And it was amazing. Spending the summer in Madrid, learning the city, the language, falling in love. But as I was busy becoming more and more cultured, I was also becoming more and more illegal. I had American friends there who had spent way more than 3 months in Madrid, and traveled back home to the States and then back to Madrid, time and time again, "No problem!" they told me, "They don't really care about the Americans, they assume they're here to vacation and spend money!" Just what I wanted to hear...
6 months after arriving in Madrid, I booked my ticket to come back home. I was planning on staying in Baltimore for 2 months, and had a return ticket back to Madrid. I knew I would be entering the country illegally, after spending 6 months in Spain (instead of 3) and only remaining outside of the Schengen area for 2 months. I still thought, "It'll probably be fine."
Here I am, in line at immigration in Barajas Airport, trying to size up some of the immigration officers. Which one looks the nicest? That's the line I'll get in.
So I was detained. I was provided a lawyer, and I was interviewed. I was held in airport jail for 24 hours, all of my belongings locked up. I was escorted onto the next returning flight to D.C. that following morning by two very kind police officers, who told me I could return, in 9 months.
Only 9 months, I was lucky! They could have banned me for much longer, for years!
Yes, it was very stupid of me to overstay a tourist visa that I knew was illegal. Should I have followed the laws of the Schengen area? Yes, absolutely. But the reason for writing this article is for those of you trying to find out where the truth in all the conflicting information online is. It doesn't matter how "strict" you hear one country is over another. The truth is, they are enforcing this law everywhere. Will you still get away with it? Yes. I am sure. Sometimes. (When I called the US Embassy from airport jail, they told me that Spain had only started detaining Americans in the past two months).
So how can you legally stay in the Schengen area for longer than a tourist visa? Get a different visa! Work visas can be very difficult to get, you usually need to get a company to sponsor you. It's possible, but difficult. Easiest way is to enroll full time in a language school. The school will help you apply for your study visa, they know what to do since they do it all the time. Yes, you have to spend the money, full time classes are expensive, but you'll get an amazing (and legal) experience of a lifetime!