What is the Schengen Area in Europe and how does it affect TEFL teachers?

If you plan on teaching English in Europe you might have come across something known as the Schengen Area. This area is currently comprised of 26 countries with a combined population of over 400 million people. The area was set up in 1985 with the intention of removing border controls to make moving between countries hassle free. The Schengen Area should not be confused with the European Union which is a separate institution. Before its creation you would have to show your passport at every border to receive an entry stamp, while now anyone including TEFL teachers can move freely from one country to another without any restrictions.

How long can I stay in the Schengen Area?

Essentially, by entering a country that is a member of the Schengen Area you are entering the area as a whole. Regardless of which country you enter first, the visa you receive will be valid for every country within the area. A standard tourist visa is typically valid for 90 days, although this may vary depending on your nationality. It is worth noting that the 90 days only count when you are actually in the Schengen Area. If you leave the area to visit Morocco for a week, for example, the days you are away will not count towards your 90 day limit.

Once the 90 days is up, when can I re-enter the Schengen Zone?

This will vary depending on your nationality; however, Americans can spend a maximum of 90 days in the Schengen Area within a 180 day period. After the 180 days are up, you can enter for another 90 day period. Unlike in many other parts of the world, you cannot simply cross a border out of the area and re-new your visa by crossing back again. However, if during the period of your 90 day visa you are granted a long term stay via a work visa etc, the 90 day and 180 day issues become irrelevant.

As the regulations might change at any time and individual countries can leave or join this scheme, it is recommended that you check the latest situation before you jump on a plane to Europe. Also note that while Americans and Canadians can usually enter a Schengen nation on a standard tourist visa on arrival, some nationalities may need to apply for a visa in advance from within their own country. You should check the embassy website of your chosen destination if you have any doubts regarding your visa status.