Earlier this year I compiled reams of information on bilateral visa waiver treaties for Aussies, Kiwis, Canadian and US passport holders. This included unearthing material from the various nations State Departments, and foreign language content that confirmed recognition of the bilateral visa waiver treaties. All of this is documented in a post on www.schengen-shuffle.com.
Amazingly, over 40 countries have existing bilateral visa waiver treaties with one or more Schengen countries, as confirmed in 2019 by the EU, for future inclusion in the new Exit/Entry System due for introduction sometime soon (last revised date – late 2023). I decided to focus on English-speaking sister countries: Australia, NZ, US and Canada. I considered the UK of course but they have no treaties, and sadly no relevance to this survey.
In researching this I was struck by the common theme of reluctance to rely on these treaties particularly by Canadians and US passport holders. In contrast – the same treaties are bandied about with gusto by Aussies and Kiwis.
As one contributor put it – most of the problem is that most US and Canadians passport holders are reluctant to rely on a visa waiver because they don’t know anyone else who has. Well, yes there is safety in herd mentality but as an Aussie who is happy to stand up for myself at the Immigration Counter I feel sorry for those who struggle to make long-term cruising in the Med viable for want of Schengen time.
Rather than rely on hearsay Facebook opinions (many well-meaning but ill-informed) I thought it might be useful to put some metrics around the ‘risk’ of relying on a bilateral visa waiver. I setup a formal survey and spruiked it on all the common English-speaking facebook groups dedicated to long-term travellers: sailors, motor-homers, and backpackers.
Respondents were asked to rate their experience on exiting the EU, when relying on a bilateral visa waiver to justify their stay in the exit country beyond the 90 day Schengen visa waiver as follows: “What happened when you offered to a Border Official the Bilateral Visa Waiver as the justification for exceeding 90 Schengen days?”
A closed set of answers were offered:
- Have not tried = Have not had the opportunity/motivation to use the Bilateral Visa Waiver in this country
- Wasn’t asked = Border Official did not realize, and/or ignored the overstay
- No issues = Border Official questioned my overstay and/or accepted the Bilateral Visa Waiver
- Resistance but accepted = Border Official initially disputed the Bilateral Visa Waiver but eventually acknowledged and accepted
with the opportunity to amplify the responses with free form text.
33 Responses were submitted, of which 32 were valid. The responses by country were: Australia – 17, NZ – 9, USA – 5, and Canada -1. Yay Australia.
Here are the results and my interpretation.
No Canadians had attempted to use a bilateral visa waiver.
Only 1 in 5 US passport holders have used a Bilateral – with France – with a minor adverse outcome cited but not in fact as per the definitions, explained as follows: “… went into local immigration office in Port Saint Louis Du Rhone France, and asked them if they would accept the waiver, and issue me a 90 day extension. … They were very helpful, called several offices … but ultimately said that they cannot grant an extension … The official response was correct – an “extension” is in Schengen visa parlance just that, an extension to a Schengen visa, not the invocation of a bilateral visa waiver. The same person subsequently used the bilateral visa waiver between the US and Italy successfully.
Of the nine Kiwis:
Countries where bilateral visa waiver treaties were tested were: Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Finland and Hungary. Of 21 interactions with Border Guards, only 2 were listed as adverse: one minor in Italy and one major in Greece.
For the minor adverse outcome in Italy: “… authorities refused even with email from NZ embassy the same day in Rome. Finally semi resolved with NZ consulate on the phone. … We are still here in Italy, this is now going on 12th month using bilateral agreements moving countries at least every 90 days staying within the schengen zone.
For the major adverse outcome in Greece: “Applied in Sydney to Greek consulate for visa extension beyond 90 days ,I was told no visa was available, I could stay 90 days in Greece ,then stay 90 days in other Schengen countries.”
In both cases above – neither is an adverse outcome as defined. The first is definitely “met resistance” which is a common reaction. My recommendation – have your ducks lined-up before you hit the Immigration desk. For the second, the respondent didn’t even get to the starting gate (or more correctly, the exit gate) so hardly adverse. It did nonetheless demonstrate a common theme – local Consulates are often as clueless as some border guards. So, don’t rely on a consulate in your home country to line up your ducks for you. I explain why in https://schengen-shuffle.com/which-countries-have-bilateral-visa-waivers/
17 Aussies responded, the bilateral visa waiver being tested on 21 occasions. Only one minor adverse outcome cited “I had a French long stay visa which the Italian Politcia de Porto (customs police) accepted as a right to stay in Italy but rejected my application under the Australian/Italian bilateral agreement. This was in Siracusa.” Not quite an adverse outcome, and not unexpected given a Schengen Type D visa was already in play.
Others may choose to interpret differently but in my mind – there was not a single case where a legitimate reliance on a bilateral visa waiver on exit from the EU resulted in a warning, a fine or restrictions on future travel.
I will maintain this survey in the hope of gathering more data, particularly from Canadians and US passport holders. Please encourage others to invest 3 minutes on the survey. The more folk who use the visa waivers, the more accustomed border guards will become, making life easier for all.