U.S. Passport Limitations in Europe
Travel between European countries was streamlined in 1985, in part because of the Shengen Agreement, which removed border controls between the signatory countries. Twenty-six countries have signed the agreement thus far.
Shengen Agreement Countries
If you’re a U.S. citizen entering a European country within the Shengen zone, you’ll need to show your passport upon your first entry—but you won’t need a visa for any tourism or business related visits within the Shengen area. In certain cases, U.S. citizens traveling for study, employment, or internships may need to obtain a visa before leaving the United States.
For U.S. citizens, the Shengen Agreement makes travel between international Shengen countries a bit more convenient because it allows you cross international borders without going through customs and without showing your passport each time.
Non-European Union passport holders must have their passports stamped upon arrival in the Shengen area, however. The State Department recommends that U.S. Citizens voluntarily get stamped when they cross international borders as backup proof that shows the amount of time they were in a particular country.
Only six of 28 EU countries are not members of the Shengen Agreement: Croatia Bulgaria, Ireland, Cyprus, Romania and the UK. These countries each have their own visitor requirements, so it’s always good planning to consult the State Department’s website far in advance of any travel plans.
Length of Stay
The Shengen Agreement states that U.S. passport holders can travel in member states for up to 90 days—and despite common misbelief, you cannot simply “step outside” the country’s borders to restart the clock. Once you leave the Shengan zone, you must stay outside for at least 90 days before you can re-enter without a visa.
If you plan to stay in any Shengen country for more than a month, the State Department website can be a great resource for extended-stay regulations.
In any Shengen country, your passport must be valid for three months after your planned departure from the area. Non-Shengen countries may have different rules, and the State Department website should be consulted before leaving the U.S. The UK has no password validity requirements.
As always, consult the State Department if you have any questions or concerns about how the Shengen Agreement will affect your travel plans in Europe.