How to Stay in Europe for More Than 90 days

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Wanderer

The Wanderer retired from his engineering job at a major Silicon Valley semiconductor company at the age of 33. He now travels the world, seeking out knowledge from other wealthy people, so that he can teach people how to become Financially Independent themselves.
Wanderer
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A lot of people ask us how we deal with visas as we travel all over the world. But the truth is, for the most part, we don’t. Canada (along with most Western countries) can travel to many other countries visa-free. We just get our passports stamped in at the airport and this is enough to let us stay anywhere from 30 days to 6 months as tourists, depending on the country. And for the most part, this is more than enough since as soon as you cross into another country, you then get stamped into THAT country and your counter resets. If you just pick 2 or 3 countries in a region like SE Asia, you can just keep doing “laps” hopping from country to country and living as a tourist forever.

The one place this breaks down is in the EU. This is because in Europe, there’s a 26-member agreement among most (but not all) EU countries called the Schengen Area. It looks like this.

Image by Rob984 @ Wikipedia

Here’s how it works. Any countries coloured blue are treated for immigration purposes as one giant immigration zone. Orange countries are supposed to join but haven’t yet. And the blue dots are those weirdo city-states that are technically not Schengen member-countries but still have open borders like Monaco and Vatican City. You know, the freak cities.

ANYWAY, the important thing is the big blue area. When you enter the Schengen Area, you get stamped in as a tourist for 90 days. There are (generally) no border checks between Schengen countries, but the 90 day limit applies for the ENTIRE Schengen Area. You can’t reset your time limit by switching countries, and you can’t even reset it by leaving the Schengen Area and re-entering. You are allowed 90 days in any 180 day period, meaning if you stay 90 days in the Schengen Area, you have to spend 90 days out before you can come back in again.

Needless to say, this is a bit of a pain, since 90 days isn’t a lot of time to explore ALL of Europe, but in the past we’ve simply worked around this by leaving the Schengen Area for SE Asia. By the time we come back, more than 90 days have passed so we get another 90 days in the Schengen Area. Easy peasy.

This year, we decided to try something new. This year, we wanted to stay a full year in Europe, and in order to do that we have to apply for a long-stay visa called the “Working Holiday Visa.” And being naive us, we thought it would be a simple matter of simply filing out some forms and dropping it off at embassy.

HA. What idiots we were.

What is a Working Holiday Visa?

A Working Holiday Visa is one of the few ways in which you can obtain a long-term visa without a job offer, enrolling in a university, or marrying a citizen. These things are bilateral agreements between countries that allow young people to spend a year travelling around the country, while at the same time being allowed to work part-time to supplement their income. They’re meant for annoying Millennials taking gap years to “find themselves” or some such bullshit, and as a result don’t require an offer of full-time employment. And the great thing is that if you get one with a country in the Shengen Area, you can use it to stay in the Schengen Area for an entire year!

They’re also restricted by age. You have to generally be 30 (or in some cases, 35) or younger to apply. We’re 35 this year. So this means this is the last year we’ll ever qualify for one of these things. So that’s why we did it.

Note that we were allowed to apply even though we’ll be turning 36 next year when the visa actually comes into effect. As long as you’re 35 at the time of your application, you’re good.

Step 1: Check Which Countries You Can Apply To

These agreements are, again, bilateral agreements between countries, meaning the Working Holiday visas you’re eligible for depend on your country of citizenship. Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders generally have the most countries to choose from. Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Argentina, Chile, and most European countries also seem to have plenty of options too.

Americans, not so much, unfortunately. The only Schengen country that offers a Working Holiday Visa is Ireland, but there are restrictions such as being newly graduated from college and stuff like that.

Check what countries offer Working Holiday Visas for your citizenship here.

That website’s great for comparing the different types of visas available to you. Remember that each country is different, and has different requirements and conditions. As a Canadian, for example, most of the Working Holiday Visas available were available for people up to the age of 30, but a few countries allowed people up to the age of 35. Because we had such a great time in Poland, and because they were one of the few countries that allowed 35-year-olds to apply, we chose to apply for a visa from Poland.

Also note that while generally you can only get a Working Holiday Visa once, you are allowed to apply to the same program from another country. Theoretically, you could keep applying for a new visa each year from a different Schengen country each year, and use that to extend your stay in Europe, but we didn’t do that so we can’t recommend it.

Step 2: Make an Appointment at the Embassy

Now that you’ve chosen a visa to apply for, find your local embassy of that country and make an appointment. Generally, all you need to do is search “Polish Embassy in Toronto” or whatever and you’ll find it. From there, go to their website, find out how to book an appointment and do it.

You generally need to do this months in advance, and you generally need to do this in your home country. Some countries like Germany allow you to get it from within Germany, but that’s an exception rather than the rule. Figure out when you are planning to enter the country and start the process 3-6 months before that date.

Step 3: Get All Your Paperwork In Order

Go to your embassy’s website information for your Working Holiday Visa, print out all the forms and instructions listing out all the documentation you need to bring, and read that shit. Seriously, sit down with a magnifying glass and pore over every bit of fine print about the documentation you need to bring for a successful application. Any slip up will result in a big fact REJECTION stamped on your application, so you need to bring your A-game, and you will likely need to kill a couple trees in the process. Here’s what I needed to bring for my application.

  • My embassy appointment confirmation
  • My passport
  • A colour photocopy of the first page of my passport
  • A signed letter of intent explaining what visa I was applying for and why
  • Hotel reservations for the first week after landing
  • Flight reservations to and from the country
  • Contact information for 3 of my friends and family members in Canada
  • A filled out and signed visa application form
  • Proof of travel insurance covering your intended stay
  • 3 months of bank statements
  • 2 passport photos
  • The application fee
  • A self-addressed-prepaid envelope

And the eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that several of these documents required me to purchase something (hotel, flights, insurance) despite not knowing whether I would be approved for this visa! My solution to this was to shop around and buy refundable versions of these. Even if it meant paying more for the “FlexFare” or whatever, this way if the visa got denied, I could get my money back.

Step 4: Present Your Documents To Embassy Official

Today’s the big day. I got up at the crack of 7AM (unheard of for an early retiree), marched down to the embassy, got through security, waited for my name to be called, sat down with the embassy official, and I presented my meticulously completed application, complete with a table of contents to guide them through the paperwork and those colour-coded tabs that only crazy OCD bureaucrats use. After weeks of preparation, I was certain I had crossed every T and dotted every I. I was going to walk out of there with my application approved. Or at least, processed. I was sure of it.

Step 5: Realize You Screwed Something Up

Well, shit.

Don’t feel bad. Anyone who’s every dealt with the immigration department of ANY country knows this feeling. No matter how hard you prepare, something always goes wrong.

The information on the website is not complete. The information on the website is NEVER complete.

For us, we had two problems. First, we only brought the travel insurance certificate which showed we were covered for the time period required. But we didn’t bring the actual policy documents. The ones that said exactly how much we were covered for in the case of medical emergency. The website never mentioned this.

And second, the embassy official asked for proof of a job offer, despite the fact that the Youth Mobility Visa doesn’t require a job offer. We tried to explain their own visa program to the embassy officer (using a printout from their own website), but the embassy official seemed perplexed, as if she had never heard of this whole Youth Mobility thing before.

But, she insisted, regardless of the job requirement disagreement, she couldn’t process my application without documentation of coverage limits from my insurance company, and we couldn’t simply load it up on my phone since security had taken our phone.

So nice try, but try again.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 2-5 Several Times

The next few weeks I would describe as a game of whack-a-mole. Go home, regroup, print out the new documentation that we didn’t know that we needed, make a new appointment, and do the whole thing over again. Only each time, something else was discovered to be wrong and we’d have to do it all over again.

This time, it was the insurance certificate. The next time, it was because the photographer had accidentally gotten an ink smudge on our photos that we didn’t notice. And each time, it was the same. Go home, regroup, start over.

Now you know why we said you should start this process 3-6 months in advance.

Step 7: Possibly Give Up And Start Over At Step 1

After failure #3 when the embassy official started insisting that this visa required a job offer despite the fact that their own website clearly said it didn’t, we gave up.

At this point, we went back to square one and picked a new country. As long as it was a Schengen country that allowed 35-year-olds to apply for a Youth Mobility Visa. As much as I loved Poland as a country, we just could NOT get their embassy officials to abide by their own rules and regulations.

For the next country, we didn’t want to make the same mistake again. We wanted to pick a country that was famous for being sticklers about rules and regulations.

So we made an appointment at the German embassy.

Step 8: At Some Point Hopefully Make it Through

I am happy to report that our meticulous attention to detail and the German people’s natural love of rules hit it off famously. After opening our application and seeing all those colour coded tabs, and then realizing that every piece of documentation was perfectly filled out and organized in the order that their own checklist had printed out, the embassy official actually whistled, impressed.

“Zis is a very goot application, ja!”

And under the table, I pumped my fist, victorious. Finally. SOMEONE appreciates my colour coded tabs!

Step 9: Get Your Visa!!!

When we left, the German embassy official estimated it would take 2 weeks to get our visas in the mail. It took 1.

God, I love German efficiency.

Phew!

So there you have it. My twisty-turny journey to getting my first (and last) Working Holiday Visa.

Incidentally, I have so much more respect for anyone who’s ever had to go through this process to actually immigrate to another country. The Working Holiday Visa is one of the easiest and simplest ones to get, and it was STILL surprisingly complicated! Now imagine going through this on an actual visa. With your family’s lives hanging in the balance. Also, you don’t speak the language.

So yeah! Anyone else ever apply for one of these things? What was your experience like? Sound off in the comments below!



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58 thoughts on “How to Stay in Europe for More Than 90 days”

  1. Hey, I’m a reader (and fan) from Portugal.
    Have you been there? What did you think of it?
    Portugal can be bureaucratic, but as compensation has several beautiful places.

    I hope you enjoyed Europe.

  2. OMG have I got a story for you! But it’s miles to long to leave in this comment section. I’ll send you an email.

  3. It’s unbelievable that in 2018 there is still all this bureaucracy to travel or spend time in any country.
    By now the world should be totally open borders…actually, I don’t know who is the f… idiot that had the dumb idea of creating borders and restrict people circulation in the world.
    Gosh, I think I’m just too ahead of my time in this specific topic ! Hate border control an customs!

    1. Hey, as a Canadian I can’t complain. For the most part borders ARE open to me. I willingly chose to go down route with the visa. But can you imagine having to do this every time? Ick.

  4. Hi! Italian lurker here. I’m not FI and will probably never be (43 yrs old and no plans at the moment…) but I love to read FI blogs and yours is simply great, also because TRAVEL! Travelling is my drug, second only to chocolate.
    Anyway, I just wanted to ask if you will be in Italy sometime during your year in Europe, I’d love to be able to help. If you need info or any other help, just ask. If you want to meet some local, I’m based in Rome (living just outside the north of the city and working a boring 9-5 job in the south of it, hating my daily 1-hr-each-way commute, hoping to change this sooner or later).
    If this sounds too abrupt, sorry, I just felt I needed to write this.
    Keep up the great work!

  5. For us it was dealing with Taiwanese Citizenship when we travelled, we had a lay over in Japan, and didn’t think about the visa issues, Canada is reciprical, but Taiwan is not.

    Mrs Spaceman had to pay about $30.00 to get a one day visa, and then we could enter Japan, to get to our hotel for one night.

    Our problems occured when we wanted to reenter the US, and she was not landed yet, even though her Student Visa was still valid, a cranky border guard denied entry, and stamped her Visa Invalid. Then we had a long drawn out expensive process with the US embassy in Vancouver.

    The next time any of you Canadians enter the US, just by flashing your passport, appreciated the privilege of being Canadian, and not having to go thru all the Visa crap.

      1. It was 1998, thankfully, things have changed since then. When we first went to Taiwan, from Canada, for more that 2 weeks I needed a Visa, then it became one month, no visa required, and the same for Mom to come here. Now it has increased to 90 days.

        Also in that year, a Taiwanese needed a Visa to enter the US for any purpose, I am glad to hear the visa restrictions have changed, and will let our family back home know.

        Thanks Wanderer

  6. “I have so much more respect for anyone who’s ever had to go through this process to actually immigrate to another country.”..aint that the truth. I’m almost at the end of the permanent residency process in Canada, I opted to apply through the Ontario provincial nominee program. Two years, three months after after the initial application was submitted (and two visitors visa and two work permit renewals later), I finally get what’s called the “confirmation of permanent residency” document. This you have to take to an interview at an immigration centre after which you’ll get your PR card. Turns out a two year plus wait wasn’t long enough, there was an error on my confirmation document. Took another another 3 and a half weeks for them to address their error. Work in progress…
    Seriously though, visas can be a pain in the behind but that shouldn’t stop one from travelling. I’ve been to almost 30 countries now an I’d say I’ve applied for visas from about 12 different countries, most of them with tedious paperwork. Annoying but so worth it once you’re there.

  7. When I immigrated to Canada, it took me two years to get an open work permit (and dealing with the immigration office), then a few more to get a permanent resident status and I eventually became a citizen:)
    It was all worth it, I have dual citizenship (France is the other) and can travel & work in most of Europe whenever I want (one thing I did right!)
    Glad you finally got your papers.what’s the plan?

  8. I applied for a Youth Mobility Scheme visa for the UK a few years ago. It was quite the process (as you’ve outlined). At the same time my husband applied for a UK ancestry visa (so many birth certificates required!). Our main issue was the bioelectric finger printing was only available in NS on a monthly basis (not sure if this has changed)… and due to timing, we couldn’t risk waiting for the next mobile finger printing clinic to come through, then to send our application after the fact. We ended up driving 15hr to Ottawa for our Embassy appointment (which had the finger printing), staying the night, then driving home the next day. Luckily we had all our ducks in a row and the application was successful. Stressful to say the least, but it worked out for us.

    1. Yeah as annoying as it was for me, I was in the same city. I can only imagine how annoying it was for you. Imagine you also got the runaround and had to do it multiple times like me.

  9. For the American readers, who are not eligible to apply for Working Holiday Visas, you can try the auxilaire programs, which is open to Americans. I’m currently applying for the 2018-2019 program in Spain. Details can be found here:

    http://www.mecd.gob.es/eeuu/convocatorias-programas/convocatorias-eeuu/auxiliares-conversacion-eeuu.html

    While you are still entering on a student visa, you are actually working. And getting paid….a bit….eventually….. The program is not for everyone, but it’s an option. I know that France also has a program like this. Not sure about the other EU countries.

    1. Generally, 90 days out of a 180-day window.

      However, a helpful reader emailed me about something called the non-lucrative visa offered by Spain that allows someone with enough money to support themselves for a year to stay in Spain. I don’t know much about it though, I JUST found out about it today.

      Might be worth investigating.

      1. France also has a similar visa to the Spanish non-lucrative visa. Harder to get than a student visa, but completely do-able.

      2. Many countries, Thailand, Portugal, Ecuador etc, have retirement visa applications that allow you to live in their country for up to a year legally, but as my elder relative has found out, (he is in Thailand most of the time) to keep medical coverage, you need to come back to Canada every 6 months. I do believe Spain has this program as well, as it is touted as one of the top retirement destinations.

  10. My much better half immigrated to the US from Korea. Yeah, the jump through the hoops until your belly is singed really sucks. That was ~20 years ago. After her last trip home in 2017, she applied for, and was granted, US citizenship. That process is third degree burns on the belly. 🙁

    Happy/sad. I’m glad she did it, but now I can’t threaten her with deportation when we’re arguing. 😉

  11. That’s a great solution! Now all I need is to reverse time until I’m 35 again. Until that’s invented, Spain has a “non-lucrative resident Visa” that I’ve been eyeing. It seems even more bureaucratic, as it needs things like Criminal Record Clearance (using fingerprints) with a certified translation to Spanish. I can’t decide if it’s going to be worth the hassle or not. I probably need to visit the Balkans to see if I like it first, because it’s a lot easier to simply leave the Schengen. But still, the siren call of Western and Central EU is strong.

    1. Yeah, a reader just emailed me about this too. Very interesting. I’ll definitely have to look into this in the future.

      That being said, I’d hesitate to go through the entire process again. Maybe I’ll just stick to the 90-day trips after this.

  12. Damn, when I saw the title I was hoping for some FIRE trick for travelling around Europe on the cheap for more than 90 days. The problem is usually affording it rather than being allowed there haha. I suppose if you stay in Eastern Europe for a big chunk though it won’t be as bad. I’ve recently been planning a 90 day trip and estimated it will cost around $10,000 – $15,000 assuming you spend a good chunk of time in the more expensive countries.

    I came to Canada on a Working Holiday Visa through a bilateral agreement with the UK. It was a pretty straightforward process, but there was a limit as to the # of people who get approved each year. I think the limit was 5,000, and they were all released at the same time. This was during the GFC, when many young people wanted out of the UK due to the terrible economy for graduates. The 5,000 spots usually “sold out” within hours, so you had to know when to apply and be quick in your application.

    IIRC the actual application was a piece of cake. As long as you were under 30 with no criminal record and you filled it out properly, you were basically a shoe in. Didn’t need any skills, work experience or education of any kind. We could renew for one additional year, giving you two full years, all you had to do was leave Canada (flag pole) and come back. After that you have to apply for PR (or a different visa) otherwise you have to go home. Thankfully I was sponsored for PR by my employer and the rest is history.

      1. Thanks. I’ve just applied for citizenship a few months ago so hopefully by the end of the year I will be a Canadian citizen. Takes a long time to get it and it’s a lot of work. For anybody that thinks it’s easy to become a Canadian citizen, it definitely is not. Well, becoming a PR is the hard part, citizenship is really just being a PR for enough years.

  13. phew . what a process . try applying for a visa to India . ha ah

    anyway

    i have a Brit passport and a Canadian .. wow am i lucky

    but that darned Brexit thing is gonna screw me up for Europe soon ..

    1. Maybe. I think last I heard the Brexit negotiations were enshrining right of movement of Brits in the EU in exchange for allowing EU citizens to remain in Britain, so hopefully that makes it into the final agreement.

      1. I hope so

        i wonder why then they have to have an Exit at all . ?? if they want to keep so many things

        for me it is not a mandate … 51 % …. . should never have been offered to the people to decide and never pushed thru …..

        1. Yeah I have a feeling that in the end the actual deal will look a lot like what it was before (since the Tories are in charge of negotiating but never wanted this to begin with), but they’ll end up throwing the nationalists a bone like changing the passport colour back to blue or something stupid like that.

  14. Indian living in San Francisco here. This Working Holiday Visa process sounds like a cake-walk compared to the documentation I’ve had to submit for my work visa to US. I also need to renew it every 3 years, so it’s a never-ending nightmare 🙂

    “Warren Buffett said that the moment one was born in the United States or another Western country, that person has essentially won a lottery.” https://twitter.com/codinghorror/status/951212283367059456

    I have to agree with him.

    Anyway, congratulations on your visa and enjoy your travels!

    1. Totally agree. On this site, we’re usually like “just travel, it’s fun!” But then I meet someone from India or South Africa who needs to apply for a visa like this for every single country even for short trips and they’re like “WE CAN’T”

      I feel for them now.

  15. Way back in 2006, I applied for a New Zealand working holiday visa. All online. As I recall, I received the confirmation/approval by email within 24 hours. No fuss. It was kind of amazing. 🙂

    (They stamped my passport with the actual visa stamp when I entered the country, not before. So I did not have to send it anywhere.)

    (I’m Canadian. And 37 this year, sigh, so no more working holiday visas for me!)

      1. It was a pretty awesome six months. I lived in Wellington, and did a bit of traveling around with that as a home base, but someday I’ll definitely go back – it would be lovely to spend more time in other places around New Zealand than I did. It’s a beautiful country.

        (I was on such a shoestring budget at the time, too – it would also be nice to go there with actual, y’know, money. 😉 )

  16. I just loved this one line –
    “They’re meant for annoying Millennials taking gap years to “find themselves” or some such bullshit”.
    This actually had me laughing at my desk. Well done on your visa, I’m really looking forward to seeing your cost break down for this year in Europe, where you stay and activities you’ll be doing!

    1. Aha same, was going to write a comment just like yours. Luckily no one was around to hear me laugh to myself…

  17. Groan!!! I feel your pain in the headaches of going to the embassy as I’ve been dealing with the Italian embassy for 4 years in order to obtain my EU Citizenship. Every visit resulted in a longer list of documents needed. I’m still waiting!

    God bless German efficiency.

  18. If you plan to stay in Europe that long, I would suggest Romania. It’s a little cheaper than the rest of Europe. I have to admit, you don’t get the same quality of products and services as in the other countries further west, but it’s worth visiting. I know a guy that settled in Romania after reaching FI. So, if he can live here, one can also endure a short time :).

  19. I really would like to get over to Europe at some point but probably wouldn’t visit as many countries as you did. I really like the post you did on Switzerland and would love to roam about those valleys and mountains for maybe a month or so, just beautiful.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. If that’s true then you can probably get away with just using the 90-day visa-free stay. Also, highly recommend Switzerland, but it’s hard not to get bankrupted in that country.

  20. I got a UK Working holiday visa over 10 years ago. The validity was 2 years. Very simply process.

    But as Canadians we can enter the UK for 6 months at a time. I don’t know if that’s with a year restriction or not. Like if you can leave for a day and come back to the UK for another 6 months.

    I don’t think the UK is part of the Schengen area, so one workaround is stay in Schengen for 3 months. Then go to the UK for 3 months. That’s only if you want to live there though.

  21. Whenever I read posts like this I feel a sense of guilt that I have dual UK/Canada citizenship that I’ve never really taken advantage of.

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