The Schengen Shuffle for Motorhome Travellers
We have decided to put pen to paper after seeing far too much confusion on our Motoroamers’ Chat Room in particular. It’s odd, I so thought we had ‘got it’ although one particular post challenged my thinking and got me into a right old panic. So we had two days doing more research, looking for blogs and trying to get clarity. Myles even built a spreadsheet so he could get it clear in his own mind. The one thing that I noticed was there was little by way of blogs relevant to motorhomers looking to extend their stays in Europe. So the culmination of our tears, tantrums and stress is this blog with the specific intention of providing information for those of us who want to do the Schengen Shuffle without risking getting a fine.
What is Schengen and what does it mean for us as motorhomers?
Schengen Terminology made simple
Schengen country – Is a country who has signed up to the Schengen Agreement and thereby allowing freedom of movement across their borders. Visiting each of these countries means that we can only spend 90 days in each rolling 180 day period.
Non-EU Schengen country – There are members of Schengen who are not part of the EU such as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein although have for economic reasons decided to sign up to the Schengen Agreement.
Non Schengen country – There are three types of non Schengen countries. The first is Ireland who has opted out of being in Schengen meaning that we can visit without needing a passport or it affecting our 90 day allowance. The second are countries who are part of Europe although who are not part of Schengen such as Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia and Ukraine. The third are countries outside of Europe that we are able to access for up to 90 days that include Turkey, Cyprus and Morocco.
Pending Schengen countries – It’s important to set these countries apart from other non-Schengen countries as their membership is currently pending and under review. So Bulgaria and Romania are expected to join at some point in the future, although for now we are able to travel around these countries for up to 90 days, without it affecting our Schengen allowance.
Microstate de facto principalities – Aside of all these categories there are also four microstates that are principalities with a small population and few natural resources that whilst in Europe are not in Schengen. They are known as de facto countries and include San Marino, Vatican City, Andorra and Monaco. However because you cannot reach these countries without first going through a Schengen Country and there are no immigration border controls, they will count towards your Schengen Allowance.
Third Nation – This is the description used for countries that are outside of the EU. UK is now recognised as a third country following our exit from Europe on 1/1/21.
ETIAS – This is the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. Similar to the system required to enter US, during 2024 it is expected that we will have to register an ETIAS prior to entering the Schengen zone. It will cost around €7 per application. We watch with interest to see when or if this is instigated.
Rolling 180 days – This is one of the key elements of Schengen that is most misunderstood and yet so critical to our plans to Schengen Shuffle. Schengen is like an escalator; always moving, rolling. So not like a calendar where the months are static. The 180 days will move according to when you want to enter and exit from the area and it is a counting back exercise from those dates. I will talk more about this, although see your available time as moving and not static and this will ease your planning pain immensely.
Schengen entry and exit points – These dates are really important to us in getting our allowance accurate. Your entry date is the day you leave the UK (or a non Schengen country) and make your journey to a Schengen country and this counts as DAY 1 of your 90 days. Even if you leave the UK at 6.00pm at night, you must still count this as 1 day in Schengen, irrespective of the hours you have stepped onto Schengen soil. Your exit date is the day leave Schengen and move outside of the zone, either returning back to the UK or moving into a non Schengen country. This is also counted as 1 DAY, irrespective of the time you leave the Schengen area.
Schengen allowance – This is the second key element that we have to get our heads around. Understanding how our allowance works and more importantly how to calculate days spent in the zone is vital, to both your sanity and your noiseless navigation around Europe. So here we go. We have 90 days available within any 180 day period – as we know from above. We also know that this 180 day period is a moving beast and not static. So every time we enter and exit Schengen we must look behind us to see how many days we have already used up. The way to calculate this is;
You take your proposed exit date from the Schengen zone and count back 180 days to establish how many days you will have spent in the area. So as an example let’s take a trip into Schengen from 17 May 2021 with a proposed exit back to the UK on 16 July 2021. Using that exit date count back 180 days = 17 January 2021. Now you can work out how much of your 90 day allowance you have used up during this period and assess whether this trip therefore is doable. If you have spent too many days in Schengen already, then simply make your proposed exit date earlier.
Schengen/Non Schengen Map
Understanding which countries we can and cannot visit is imperative to us as we plan our European road-trips. So hopefully this visual map will help to grasp how to Schengen shuffle.
There are a few points to make on this map; the originator of the map didn’t differentiate Andorra, San Marino, Monaco or the Vatican City I guess because they were too small to annotate. So whilst these, for all intents and purposes, look like they belong to the Schengen area – they don’t. However because the border controls on the France and Spanish side exist for customs and not immigration, there is no stamping process. Therefore Andorra will not save you ‘Schengen Days.”
Ok, so as you will see from this map, it clearly shows those areas that are defined by the Schengen agreement and allows us to plan where we can and can’t go travel to. So first of all those countries that are purple are currently in the Schengen zone and means that we are restricted to 90 days in our rolling 180 days and so careful planning is required here to avoid any penalties for overstaying our welcome. More on this later.
The blue countries are those who are not in Europe although for economic reasons have decided that being part of the Schengen Agreement is important for their countries. So travel here impacts on our Schengen allowance and must be treated in the same way as the purple countries.
The green areas; the first is Ireland which has opted out of Schengen and the second are those countries currently with their application to Schengen pending. So for now we can travel here without having to use our Schengen allowance. Which is great news. Although please note that with effect from January 2023, Croatia is now a fully signed up member of Schengen, which means that travel here must be calculated into your 90 day allowance.
And finally the grey countries are those that are not part of Schengen and are known as Third Nations. So in theory we can travel here without our Schengen allowance being affected. Clearly we will have unlimited travel through UK and Northern Ireland whilst a trip to Turkey and Morocco will be allowed for up to 90 days. So this has some terrific opportunities for those of us wanting to do the Schengen Shuffle especially during the winter.
Schengen Shuffle Scenarios
I think to really bring Schengen to life in a clear and non-scary way, we need to create some scenarios for you that will help you work out how your trips might look. So below we illustrate some options and how to calculate the days so you can dance your way around Europe without risking a Schengen penalty. For each of these scenarios, let’s assume that because of lockdown, none of us have been into the Schengen zone because of our lockdown periods.
Easy Schengen Trip – Out for 90 and back for 90
The easiest Schengen scenario is where you simply decide to leave the UK and head to Europe for up to 90 days and then come back to the UK for 90 days and then head out again for another 90 day block. There is little complication here as there is no Schengen Shuffling going on. You simply leave the UK on 17 May 2021 and enjoy your Schengen countries for a full 90 days and then return on 14 August. That means that you can return to Schengen again for 90 days on 13 November. This calculator image below demonstrates this nicely.
Schengen Shuffle – Travelling for 11 months out of UK
Now we start to dance our way through Schengen and begin our shuffle. So you want to spend most of your time in Europe and perhaps not too much time in the UK. Given that most us need an annual MOT, coming back to the UK is necessary, although with some careful planning you can be out of the UK for up to 11 months and we did this in 2023 quite easily. We have shown you an example of how to do this using a trip down to Greece, over to Turkey and then back through Bulgaria and Romania. You could of course map the same sort of trip to include Morocco, which we have done successfully. You can also extended your visa in Morocco beyond the standard 90 days, which has huge benefits for our Schengen Shuffle.
You leave on 17 May and decide on just 80 days in Schengen so that you have a 10 day buffer should you need to get back to the UK in an emergency. (Bear in mind that if you did 90 in Schengen and then went to Turkey and something happened back home then you have no days available in your allowance to return to the UK. You would have to leave your van in Turkey and fly back. So just as an insurance policy, it is worth having a little buffer period if your circumstances back in the UK drive it.)
On 4 August you cross into Turkey and stay for up to 90 days. After which you return to Greece and take two days to travel to Bulgaria where with Romania you can tour for 90 days per country if you wish. For the purposes of our exercise I have shown 90 days in total for the two countries leaving Romania for Hungary where we re-enter the Schengen on 1 February. We now have a totally of 88 days to return to the UK allowing us to meander through Austria, Germany and France.
To illustrate this one further step; if you look at each of your exit dates and go back 180 days you can calculate how many days you have spent in Schengen. This is how it looks in practice;
- 4 August 2021 exit date – go back 180 days takes you to 5 February 2021. You have no Schengen allowance to consider in this period.
- Your next Schengen entry and exit points are 2 and 3 November 2021. Go back from 3 November 2021180 days takes you to 7 May 2021. During this period (which remember is a rolling 180 day period) you have used 80 days, so you have 10 left.
- Your next entry and exit points are 1 Feb and 29 April 2022. So again from your 29 April date go back 180 days, which takes you to 31 October 2021 where you have used 2 days, therefore your planned 88 days can be used to return back to the UK.
There are obviously lots of other options we could illustrate, although hopefully seeing how we could have 11 months out of the UK should give you some confidence to begin planning your own trips. The bottom line to remember is that if you shuffle your way from Schengen into Romania, Bulgaria, Morocco or Turkey, then you can have an extended trip out of the UK and still get back in time for your MOT. Obviously in the examples that we have given above, it doesn’t take into account weather conditions that might influence your decisions and the dates are just illustrative. Also as a disclaimer, we must stress that it is vital for you to do your own calculations and planning to ensure that the trip you decide upon is doable without penalty.
Schengen Allowance and Date Calculators
As we have navigated our way around this topic both for our own trips abroad and also for this blog, we have come across some great tools that will keep you sane, safe and in allowance, which we profile here.
The first essential tool is the Visa Calculator. This is our preferred calculator tool as it is clearer and easier to use. The calculator allows you to input your entry and exit date to Schengen and then it calculates when you must have left the area to prevent penalties. It also allows you to map in multiple trips, which is great. So no paper calculations are needed as in our experience they can lead to mis-planning. We strongly urge you to if not plan with this tool at the very least use it to check your predictions.
The second tool we found incredibly helpful is the Date Calculator. Trying to work out what 180 days back can be tricky even using your Phone’s calendar. So make life simple and use this site instead. It allows you to put in a date and then either add or subtract the desired number of days. It is terrific and makes life simpler, quicker and far less stressful than the classic ’30 days has September, April, June and November’.
I have saved both of these websites on my phone and popped them into a folder called Schengen so that I have easy access to them. You can do this too by going into their websites and tapping the three horizontal lines on the bottom right of your screen. Then you press Add page to and you can put it on your home screen.
Schengen Top Tips
This final section is more of a hypothetic section given that at the time of writing, we have not been able to travel and put our knowledge into practise. That said I think for now, there are some planning tips that we can offer you to help you navigate your Schengen Shuffle more easily.
- Perhaps the flexibility of travel may be jaded by Schengen with intuitive right turns limited under the restrictions. Although there is no reason why, certainly for now, we shouldn’t be able to enjoy full and rich travels through Europe. We just need to plan a little more precisely than we have in the past. Travel is still possible and so keep your minds positive and upbeat.
- Avoid going to the edge of your allowance. 90 days might be alluring, although in any plans we need to cater for the unforeseen such as family crises, illness, breakdowns and incidents and our Schengen Shuffling is no different. Make sure you give yourself some scope for emergencies or things that you hadn’t catered for. Don’t risk getting penalties for having to overstay because of that breakdown that cost you five days you hadn’t allowed for in your plans.
- Make sure if you visit Turkey and Morocco you will need to get additional insurance. UK Insurance companies such as our insurers Comfort have suspended their Morocco and Turkey cover. You can however get insurance at the border of both countries, which we have done successfully. For more information on Morocco, check out our free Ebook which gives you more essential information about your entry to this exciting African country.
- Make sure that your passports have at least 6 months left on them otherwise you may be prevented from travelling outside of the UK. Also make sure that you get a stamp from the Border Control to show your entry and exit points. Whilst it should all be automated, for us this is still so new, a stamp will prevent any disputes along the line.
- When you use the calculator to plan your trips, especially if they are multiple, take a screen shot and save it on your phone so if there is again any dispute you can demonstrate your dates using the calculator.
- Remember when travelling to the continent there are restrictions on the food you are allowed and prohibited to bring in. Check this website for the specifics otherwise you risk these items being confiscated.
- If you travel with pets, you should look to explore getting an EU Pet Passport otherwise you will be restricted to just 4 months in Schengen and non Schengen countries using the UK’s Pet Passport scheme.
- Keep your eyes open for Visa Extension information from each Schengen country. Whilst there are visas that you can apply for, for work purposes, there are few that cover tourism extensions. This may change as Covid restrictions are lifted and countries want to encourage UK travellers back into their countries. Although at the time of writing there are no immediate plans for this to be offered.
So this brings us to the end of our Schengen Shuffle guide. We hope that is has helped demystify some of the terms used and the confusions that have been building around what we can and can’t do. The bottom line that travel is still possible and more than perhaps we thought possible. So we hope that this will all feel hopeful and positive for you.
If you have any questions please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will endeavour to answer them.
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