How to Travel Europe, or Who is This Schengen Guy?

Overlooking the entrance to the ancient city of Pompeii

Overlooking the entrance to the ancient city of Pompeii

When Florence and I developed our Six Monther plan of living in a different country every six months, we listed all the countries in which we were interested in living.

The Ponte de Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

The Ponte de Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

We came up with a list of twenty countries, and we achieved a couple of general objectives. First, we would set foot on every continent. Second, we would be seeing much of the world before we are too old to be as active as we would like in our travels. (I am 63, Florence is 53.)

Our bucket list of countries includes a number of European Union member countries. As we researched the visa requirements for these EU countries, we came across a law unique for travelers to the EU called the Schengen Visa.

View of Vulcano from the Aeolian Island of Lipari

View from the Aeolian Island of Lipari

The Schengen Visa is an entry permit issued by an embassy or consulate of any member country.  To facilitate a more convenient immigration procedure, the Schengen states have abolished passport and immigration controls at their common borders.  This single visa is now all that is required to enter any member country.

Here is where it gets confusing, because there are twenty-six Schengen states and twenty-seven EU member countries (with Croatia slated to join in July, 2013). Two EU members are not Schengen, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Norway and Iceland are not part of the European Union, but are part of the Schengen area.
Note: Do not try to remember all of this because membership in both the EU and the Schengen Alliance keeps changing.

Horse sculpture near Agrigento, Sicily

Horse sculpture near Agrigento, Sicily

The point of this is that a tourist visa in the UK is good for 180 days, which works great for our Six Monther plan. However, Schengen Visas are valid for only 90 days. Also, we cannot use a strategy of leaving the EU for a few days on some side trip and then return to a Schengen country and start a new 90 day clock. The Schengen Visa only permits travel for 90 days within any 180 day period. Thus, after 90 days we would have to exit for at least 90 more days before a new 180 day clock would start.

The Dual Citizenship Option

Church in Taormina, Sicily

St. Rosalia Church below Tindiri, Sicily

This leads to our strategy of obtaining dual citizenship with Italy for which we are eligible due to Florence’s Sicilian roots. This is a detailed process with a number of bureaucratic hoops to jump through. It is precisely this bureaucratic process that may force us to revise our travel schedule as we await approval.

If you are considering international travel beyond a vacation getaway, you should investigate your eligibility for dual citizenship. There are many benefits. First, you gain access to the same set of opportunities in two different countries including voting rights, purchasing property, and access to education and social services.

Florence in Pisa

Florence in Pisa

You will also have two valid passports which, in some cases, will provide ease of travel and lower reciprocity fees for entry into foreign countries. In addition, once you obtain dual citizenship, it stays in your family. You can pass it along to your children, a gift for which they will no doubt thank you someday.

Dual citizenship eligibility can be obtained through birth right, marriage, and naturalization. If you know your parents’ or grandparents’ ethnic history, it may be to your benefit to investigate the citizenship laws of their country of origin. Who knows what doors it may open for you?

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