Dear GoMad Nomad,
I’m planning a trip to Europe, but information about visas is kind of confusing. Do I need a Schengen Visa to visit France, Germany, and Italy? If so, what do I need to do to get one? I’m from the US, if that makes a difference.
– Phil G. in Houston, Tx
This is a good question, and one that can be difficult to work out before a first big international trip! First off, well done on knowing that you need to check for this info. My first trip to Europe (a few years back now) I happily boarded a flight from the US without even questioning whether there were any kind of bureaucratic questions to be addressed. Luckily I was flying into France, like you, so I didn’t have anything to worry about!
Indeed, for US passports the visa requirements in Europe are downright simple. Unless you plan to visit Russia, Belarus, or Turkey you shouldn’t need to apply for anything before you leave home. For entering Europe as a tourist via Schengen zone countries you can stay in the entire Schengen Zone for 90 out of every 180 days without needing to apply for a proper visa. If you want to stay longer or find work the rules are different, and you should check the information of the country you plan to stay in.
Beyond the countries already mentioned you can mostly stay for 90 days in each country without worrying about visas. This includes Ireland, the UK, much of the Balkans, Ukraine, and Moldova. If you plan to visit Turkey make sure to apply for a visa online before you go (this is a recent change from their former visa-on-arrival policy) but basically all it takes it paying a fee and printing the paperwork.
A few of these countries outside the Schengen Zone require a small fee be paid upon arrival, so if these are in your plans make sure to check. A good place to look for this kind of information is on the State Department website or directly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the countries you plan to visit.
I know this seems like a lot of info, but for your first trip that will mostly focus on Western Europe you don’t have much to worry about! If you have any other questions about specific countries you have trouble finding information on feel free to send us another message at firstname.lastname@example.org whenever you like. Happy travels!
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