Leaving Schengen: Misperceptions of What Americans Can Do

I’ve been abandoning my dear blog and I apologize for that… I think my last blog post started the same way. I’ve had many good reasons though.

Life changes quickly.

The past two weeks I’ve not only seen my life change, but the lives of many people around me. Some of these unexpected changes have been good, others not as much.

One of the most amazing things travel has taught me is this: you can very rarely control the situations around you; however, the one thing you always have control of is how you respond to changes in your life. This realization changed my life. It taught me to let go of the situations in life I could not control. I’ve been a much more laid back person ever since. I’m sure my blood pressure lowered once I accepted this as truth.

Why I am living out of two suitcases

You’ve heard me whine, bitch, and moan about visa issues… I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry. Any transient or long-time expat knows the frustrations that goes hand in hand with the lifestyle. It would be weird if I didn’t talk about it as it’s a big part of my life and has impacted many of the decisions I’ve made.

My visa extension in Italy was dependent on my work contract, which last minute did not go through.

Irregardless, I need to get myself back the UK. This is a task which has proven much more difficult than I (or anyone really) expected. My visa for the UK… I’ve hired a lawyer as I’ve accepted the fact that at this point there’s nothing I can do. It’s time to leave it up to someone who does this stuff for a living. If I didn’t need to go to the UK to finish my dissertation I’m not sure I would bother. Not at this point in time at least.

Whenever I talk about my visa issues I always hear the same thing:

What did you do? You’re an American, you can do whatever you want. Just go, there’s no reason why they won’t let you stay.

Oh hell yes there’s a reason I can’t stay in Italy right now and why I can’t go to the UK until further notice.

The thing people don’t understand is that being an American does not mean that I’ve got a ‘do whatever the hell you want’ card. I’d be lying if I said some things weren’t easier, but the point is I cannot just do, go or live wherever I want and the insistence that I can by so many people is becoming extraordinarily frustrating and annoying.

Image UK visa refusal

What American’s CAN and canNOT do

Americans can…

  1. Travel throughout the fifty states without a passport and have the freedom to live and work within those fifty states as they please.
  2. Enter the Schengen area for up to 90 days within a period of 180 days.
  3. Enter the UK and remain for up to 6 months (but not without a bit of hassle).

American’s cannot…

  1. Live and work in any country in the world. In order to work in an EU country their potential employer has to be able to prove that there is not another suitable candidate for the job within the EU.
  2. Just hop borders to reset their tourist visa. By this I mean that jumping from one European country to another does not re-start the clock on the 90 day visa.

Visa issues are stressful and when I talk to others about these issues it becomes very clear that many people literally know nothing about it, and how could you unless you’ve actually had to worry about your legal status in a country? It’s been a frustrating and anxious month for me. Italy is very casual about their borders and this casual attitude encourages people to overstay their welcome (legally) in Italy. It’s really confusing, actually. For a while I was actually under the impression that I could just hop countries to re-instate my legal status in Italy.

It’s great to get advice from fellow expats and travellers, but for your sake, always look up the actual policies. Keep yourself informed because when it comes to your legal status in a country, ignorance isn’t an excuse.

Fellow travel blogger, Nomadic Matt, wrote an excellent article on how a non-EU citizen can stay in Schengen (legally) last May. It’s really well-written. I recommend you give you it a read.

So where does this leave me?

I have to leave Schengen. Admittedly, I’ve shed more than a few tears the past week. I’m disappointed by a work contract that was not renewed, frustrated by the UK border agency and feeling a bit without country but as I said earlier:

the one thing you always have control of is how you respond to changes in your life.

I’ve turned this lemon into lemonaid and let go, leaving my future up to Skyscanner.

Wait, what?

Skyscanner is a federated search for flights online. I typed in Rome as my departing city and performed a search for flights leaving Rome for ‘Everywhere’ on August 28th (the last day I can legally remain in Schengen), and told myself I’d take the cheapest one-way out of Schengen no matter where it went. I really lucked out.

Image Skyscanner

This American Burd is packing her bags (all two of them) and moving to Croatia in just a few days. It’s a big world and I’ve never been to Croatia, so here I come! I’ve got new places to explore, people to meet and hearts to break. 😉

Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union 1 July 2013… but it’s not in Schengen. Croatia is obliged to join Schengen, but is not expected to join the list of Schengen states until 2015 so I’ve found another temporary home in Europe whilst waiting for a UK visa. Wish me luck and I’ll let you know how it works out.

I’m not the only one with these issues. What about all of you out there? What are your experiences? Any advice to offer?


14 thoughts on “Leaving Schengen: Misperceptions of What Americans Can Do

    • American Burd

      Honestly, I couldn’t be more excited. I’d like to think everything happens for a reason. I’ve got a lovely flat lined up and am really excited to meet you!

  1. Rima on

    With a mild bitter sweet smile on my face, I write what people of my country CAN and canNOT do with their passport; just to make you feel better;)

    People of my country can….

    1. Travel within their own country!!!!
    2. Travel to Georgia, Turkey, Syria, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Haiti, Venezuela, Guyana, Ecuador and Bolivia.

    People of my country can not….

    1. Live and work in any country in the world, even their own!
    2. That’s it!

    Have fun in Croatia;)

    • American Burd

      Hi Rima!

      Thanks for sharing. It’s really unfortunate, but when people say we live in a globalised world they are truly only talking about economies. It doesn’t extend much further than that. I know that I’ve got it easier than many nationalities but have been really frustrated with this issue as this has been ongoing since April or May now. The other day I was told that I act very dramatic about it all, but to me it really is dramatic as I can’t finish my degree without finishing my research project in Scotland. After 10 years of education it’s frustrating.

      I know you’ve been blessed to live and study in other countries, but I’m sure it’s incredibly frustrating to think of job prospects after your graduate education, particularly if you do want to continue living abroad (for those reading this comment, a bit of context, Rima is from Iran).

      Rima, thanks for making me feel better but now I just feel worse in general. Borders exist for a reason but I can’t help but feel that these borders often end up restricting access to the wrong people.

  2. Visas can be a most frustrating thing when abroad but awaiting results in the Croatia sounds pretty damn good! Best wishes with your UK visa!

  3. Great article. And it’s good you find it frustrating when people are arrogant enough to assume that just because you’re American, you can do ‘what you want.’ I am sure they turn their noses up at the rule “You must prove that you’re able to do a job an EU / Schengen national cannot” – but let me assure you: to get into North America for a Schengen member is exactly the same.

    Glad to hear you’re spending your time positively and soaking up the beauty of Croatia. I’ve never been, but it sounds lovely.

    • American Burd

      Thanks for the comment, Bex! The arrogence is truly annoying and not helpful in the least! All this time, it’s made me feel like they’re saying my rejected visa applications are all my fault for having made a dumb mistake. Since I’ve employed a lawyer I’ve found that I’ve not actually made any mistakes… I’ve merely fallen through the cracks as I’m sure happens in all systems to many people. I know it’s just as hard (if not harder) for people to get visas to come to the ‘States. The strict rules and rigorous rigorous applications that my country requires of others has undoubtedly lead to the same sort of treatment of Americans when applying elsewhere (and why wouldn’t it!). So it makes sense, but it is quite befuddling. People talk about this globalised world we live in and I used to believe in, but it’s not like what people say. Economies are globalised, not people. People are able to travel somewhat easier because of the evolution of transportation systems, but to remain outside of one’s ‘zone’, if you will, is still not so easy.

      I am enjoying my time here in Croatia. It’s a beautiful country with amazing people and I’ve certainly got plenty of work to keep me busy! I think you’d love it here.

  4. Very sorry about the contract. Visas are tricky business and every time I hear someone saying they are just going to leave Rome for a few days to re-enter and reset their 90 day tourist visa, I scream silently to myself. I hope you have a fabulous time on the next great adventure in Croatia!

    • American Burd

      Thanks for the well wishes, Natalie. It’s hard to make people understand that leaving for a few days does not reset the clock on a visa. From my experience, if it’s their system, they just won’t believe you. In Rome it’s strange because of how loose people act about the whole situation. I’m quite enjoying Croatia but have found myself missing Rome, and Italy in general, so much more than I thought I would.

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