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All You Need to Know About Europe’s Schengen Zone

“Is there a problem? The border agents sure are taking a long time with my passport” I wondered as I waited inside the train that would take me from Slovenia to Croatia.

“You have to come outside with us. Now” the Slovenian border agent said in a raspy and serious tone. “What? Why?” I replied. “You have exceeded your Schengen Zone days. This is a big problem,” he said as we walked outside and I watched how my train departed to Zagreb without me.

“It’s alright, there’s another train in one hour.” I thought. In hindsight, I laugh at how foolish I was thinking I would be sleeping in Croatia that night.

The Interrogation at the Slovenian-Croatian Border

“So what do you do? Are you a student?” the border agent asked. “Well, that’s a hard question to answer.

I mean, I do carry with me a valid student cards to get discounts at museums and if you make a call to my university in France they will tell you that I have yet to complete two final tests in order to graduate from my Masters degree so in theory I’m still enrolled at said school. In a way, you could say that I’m a student of life”.

“Very well then. So what do you do for a living? What is your profession?” he asked again, more curious than ever this time.

“I’m a Professional Travel Blogger. A Photojournalist if you will. I work independently on my own and I publish my works in my own website. I mostly get my money from donations of brands and readers alike plus other online businesses that I have on the side as a Digital Nomad.” I said.

It took a few minutes for the border agent to come to his senses. It was as if a nuclear bomb had just detonated and nobody knew where to take shelter. Finally, he just muttered, “So you get paid to travel the world?”.

“I can show you my website if you have Wi-Fi in this detention center. I have taken some really cool photos of your country, sir.” I replied in order to break the ice in the room.

The Eiffel Tower at Night
The Eiffel Tower at Night

All you needed to know about Europe’s Schengen Zone

Thankfully, the border agent that was in charge of me was a very nice man and he actually explained to me slowly how the Schengen Zone Agreement has changed lately and now, the 3 months within 6 months period takes place counting backwards from today’s date.

Before the new changes, the way it worked was that the 6-month window was created upon your first entry to the Schengen Zone and closed after the last day of those 6 months after which your 90-day Schengen counter hits 0 and resets.

This old scheme allowed for travellers to enter to the Schengen Zone for the first time on January 1st, leave the Zone on January 2nd , re-enter again on April 1st and then be able to stay for 6 continuous months without any worry (3 months at the end of the January 1-July 1 window and 3 months at the beginning of the July 1-January 1 window).

“But wasn’t that actually very good for the local economies and tourism? I mean, if travellers with enough money to stay that long in the Schengen Zone were allowed to stay even longer, it would actually benefit the economy of all the places they visit no?” I asked to the border agent.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting an answer since I was just talking to myself out loud but I was actually surprised by what he said after:

“Of course. I totally agree with you. But not everyone comes here as a tourist. This is done mainly to deter those who come here to work illegally.” He answered.

“I see. I understand completely now. Let’s got on with it then, shall we?” I said defeated as I began to reflect in how dumb I was not to keep up to date with the new changes in Europe’s Schengen Zone.

In case you want to know, this is what my Schengen Zone entries looked like at the point of checking them on March 10th.

Starting Point: 01 July, Spain

Departure: 04 July, Spain-Morocco (04 Days Total)

Arrival: 27 July, Morocco-Spain

Departure: 03 September, Hungary-Turkey (42 Days Total)

Arrival: 10 October, Turkey-Italy

Departure: 05 November, Greece-Macedonia (69 Days Total)

Arrival: 12 November, Macedonia-France

Departure: 2 December, France-United Kingdom (90 Days Total)

The Fireworks at Hogmanay 2014
The Fireworks at Hogmanay 2014

Basically, I thought that the 1 July-1 January 6-months window was closed off for good and I re-entered the Schengen Zone in Finland during the 7th of January of 2015 believing that a new 6-months window opened up. But I was wrong.

Turns out that the only days that matter now is the last 180 days starting to count backwards from the moment of checking them (in this case, the 10th of March) so to them, my Schengen Zone entry log looked like this:

Starting Point: 10 October Italy

Departure: 3 November Greece-Macedonia (26 Days Total)

Arrival: 05 November Macedonia-France

Departure: 2 December France-United Kingdom (47 Days Total)

Arrival: 07 January United Kingdom-Finland

Departure: 10 March Slovenia-Croatia (110 Days Total)

Be sure to use this Schengen Zone Days Calculator in order to know how many days you have been inside the Schengen Zone at the moment that your passport is going to be controlled and be sure to read ALL of this document in order to avoid any future problems.

“110 days in total? Damn, I’ve made a huge mistake.” I said.

Street Art at Metelkova, Ljubljana
Street Art at Metelkova, Ljubljana

So how did the Man of Wonders avoid getting deported?

Well, turns out that each individual Schengen Zone country has different laws when it comes to what do with travelers who exceed their time in the Schengen Zone. Some countries are famous (or should I say infamous?) for not only deporting but also banning travelers for one year (or five) from the Schengen Zone.

So how about Slovenia? In Slovenia you only have to pay a 250 Euros fine and after that you get a slap in the wrist and are told not to do it again.

The problem? If you don’t have enough cash with you to pay, they have the legal right to withhold your passport and since it was already 17:00 I had no way to arrange for a wired money transfer in order for me to withdraw the cash from an local bank or Western Union office.

The result? I had to backtrack two hours by train to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, spend another night there and take an early morning train back to the border town of Dobova where I was escorted by a police officer to the nearest Western Union where he momentarily gave me back my passport in order for me to withdraw the money.

This was also my first time inside a police car abroad so that’s another item crossed off from my endless bucketlist of wonders now!

Miss Switzerland and the Eiger Mountain
Miss Switzerland and the Eiger Mountain

But in the end, this was a blessing in disguise… I hope.

Truth to be told, I cannot really complain about the facilities of the detention centre since it had drinking water and the border agent was kind enough to use his mobile as a hotspot so I could send an e-mail to my family and update my Facebook status.

But since there was no unlimited tea or coffee (not even a pool table? Come on!) I cannot really give 5 stars to the detention centre so it has to settle with only 4. But hey, there are worse places you could get yourself into, no?

Joking aside, I’m really glad that this incident took place in a country where the border agents are honest and polite with confused travelers like me.

As I said before, some Schengen Countries have really harsh punishments against people who exceed their Tourists Days mainly because they have so many illegal immigrants from everywhere in the world.

Sunset at Dubrovnik, Croatia
Sunset at Dubrovnik, Croatia

Also, I would like to give a special thank you to the staff of the Celica Hostel of Ljubljana who allowed me to stay one extra night with them free of charge (read all about their unique charm in my article about Slovenia) since otherwise I would have had to spend the night in the lonely train station.

As a fun fact, the Hostel used to be a former Yugoslavian prison so it is quite fitting that even after all the ordeals of the day, I ended up spending the night behind bars one way or the other. Silver linings, right?

Last but not least, don’t forget to use our Affiliate Link of Wonders for making hotel reservations.

Same price for you and a small pocket money commission for this website of yours.

Sweet deal, uh?

Have you ever exceeded your Schengen Zone Days? How was your experience like? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think, player!

NOTE: This article was written in 2015 and ever since, border security has tightened in Europe more and more. Fines and sanctions might have radically changed. Proceed with caution.

The Ultimate Schengen Zone Travel Guide (1)
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