By Randy and Lori Grant. See their blog at Freetirement
By far, the hardest part of traveling abroad is the visa process. This determines how long you can stay in country, when you have to leave and when you can return. It is a major headache that most people, especially Americans, take for granted.
As a U.S. citizen, getting into most countries does not require a visa. More than likely you will get a visa on arrival when you go through passport control. We have only traveled to a few countries that we had to have a visa prior to entering the country (i.e., China).
Most countries will grant us a tourist visa when we enter the country. This can be for 30 days (Thailand) or 90 days (Japan, Croatia, Malaysia). India even grants a 10 year multiple entry tourist visa for only $100!
Countries are pretty easy to figure out; however, it gets complicated when you involve the EU (European Union). This is the most convoluted system we have ever seen. If you don’t believe me, just watch this clip explaining it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O37yJBFRrfg
Are you scratching your head in confusion now? Me too. But, we think we finally figured out this system and how it will affect us during our future travels in Europe.
The two things you need to understand when visiting Europe for more than 90 days is the difference between the EU and Schengen Zone. Many countries belong to the EU, but not the Schengen Zone. A person can travel in the EU for up to 90 days in a 180 day time frame. After that 90 days you have to leave. Let’s use Germany and Croatia as examples.
Germany is part of the EU and Schengen Zone. We can stay there for up to 90 days as a tourist. Once we leave, we are not allowed back in for another 90 days. So, we have to leave the Schengen Zone. Croatia is part of the EU, but not part of the Schengen Zone. Croatia will allow me to stay 90 days, but once we leave, we are not allowed back there for another 90 days. So essentially we could go back and forth for the rest of our lives as long as we hit those precise timelines.
Some countries like Malaysia are not so strict. You get 90 days upon entry and you can leave for one day at the end of that period and return the following day and get another 90 days. Thailand is the same, but they have a 30 day policy. In Thailand, they do have a visa extension that you can pay for in country and get an additional 30 days, but that is it. You will have to leave after the 60 days.
Since most of us travel as temporary tourists, this problem will not arise often, but it is always wise to check out the visa requirements of every country you visit. The last thing you want to happen is to be turned away at immigration before you even get started on your dream vacation.