For my American friends interested in traveling abroad, you will be pleased to know that Americans with a current valid passport do not need a visa to visit Europe. Pack your bags!
Europe can be divided into 3 groups: the United Kingdom (which includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), the Schengen area, and the remaining countries (all of which have different entry requirements).
For this post, I will focus on the Schengen area. The Schengen area currently includes 26 countries. It is pronounced shen-gen.
As an American citizen with a current valid passport, you are allowed to visit any country in the Schengen area visa-free for up to 90 days in any 180 day period. That means you could fly into Madrid, spend a few weeks there enjoying your tapas, take a train to Paris, spend a few weeks practicing your French, hop a flight over to Rome…just as long as you don’t exceed the 90 day limit. You are allowed to travel freely among the 26 countries and your passport will only be stamped as you enter and exit the Schengen area. The day you arrive and the day you depart are included in the 90 day count. It is your responsibility to keep count! The consequences of overstaying varies from country to country. At the very least you will be kicked out of the country and not allowed re-entry, so don’t do it.
The following countries are included in the Schengen area: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark (excluding Greenland and Faroe Islands), Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway (excluding Svalbard), Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
This map is from the BBC article, Schengen: Controversial EU free movement deal explained.
But take note: Denmark will allow you as an American citizen to stay an additional 90 days (on top of your 90 days in the Schengen area). So if you spend 90 days in Norway, Poland, Finland, Germany, you could hop over to Denmark and spend an additional 90 days even though Denmark is included in the Schengen. Pretty sweet!
Even if you plan on only visiting countries in the Schengen area, you must check the visa/entry details of every country you wish to visit. Some countries may require you to have medical insurance or to register with the police. You also just want to be aware of any high-risk areas or political unrest situations.
Some countries in Europe are not included in the Schengen. Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus aren’t in the Schengen but will eventually join. Others like Ireland, Albania, Serbia, or Montenegro are not in the Schengen and have no plans to join. You can still travel to these countries without a visa, but they have different entry requirements and will allow you to stay there for various lengths of time. Be sure to research visa requirements for the rest of Europe if you wish to visit a country outside the Schengen area.
Do your research.
The U.S. Department of State website is a good place to start your research.
This website provides details for every country of the world. They offer locations and phone numbers of the U.S. embassy and any consular offices, information about visa requirements, crime and security information, health and medical considerations, drug penalties, local areas to avoid, and more. Select the country you plan to visit and read everything, but pay close attention to these sections: entry, exit, and visa requirements; safety and security; and local laws and special circumstances.
Wikipedia is another good place to start if you are curious about various countries’ visa requirements for U.S. citizens. You must double check on the country’s own immigration page that the information presented on this page is accurate and up-to-date. (Wikipedia offers similar pages with visa requirements for citizens of other countries. I’ve been comparing visa requirements for Polish citizens as well.)
Check your passport.
One super important thing to remember – check the expiration date of your passport!
If your passport is set to expire in the next few months or year, you will have issues abroad. For instance, to enter Spain, your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after your planned date of departure from Spain. Similarly, to enter France, your passport must be valid for a minimum of 6 months upon entry. It also must be valid for 3 months beyond your planned departure date.
My passport is valid for 10 years, so as long as you have a current passport you shouldn’t have to worry about this.
If you currently don’t have a passport or your passport has expired, start the process of getting one. The U.S. Passports and International Travel website makes it very easy to apply and all instructions are clear. That way you have one less thing to worry about when you finally get bit by the travel bug.
As of February 2016, American citizens with a valid passport can travel to 174 countries and territories visa-free or with visa on arrival. I might just need to visit them all!
Where do you want to travel to next?