Tired of the confusion surrounding the Bilateral Visa Waiver Treaties, I decided to do some focused research to try and settle some niggling questions once and for all. I have summarized the results of my research in a Table.
A Table Summarizing the Bilateral Visa Waiver Treaties
The Table below lists the countries in the Schengen zone that have Bilateral visa waiver treaties with the CANZUKUS countries. Read More
There are five columns for each CANZUS country (sorry Brits, yours all expired long ago).
The first column (a) indicates if I have found evidence of a Treaty. You can find all the treaties in the Resources section of Schengen-Shuffle here.
The second (b), if I have found evidence that the home CANZUS government publicly acknowledges existence of the Treaty. This is drawn from varied sources. For example: the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs Smart Traveller website and the US State Department List of in Force Treaties. The NZ Government acknowledges the existence of the Bilateral Treaties but no longer list treaty countries on their Foreign Affairs Safe Travel website. And Canada, nothing found (yet?)
The third, (c), if I have evidence that the local Consul confirms the Treaty as in-force. For Australia, this is based on my personal emails to the Consulates. It is a Work in Progress for other countries. Perhaps a fellow Euro-Traveller from each of NZ, Canada, and the US could help with this?
As a result perhaps of various internet recommendations, Consulates in Australia and NZ are, I suspect, bombarded by Euro-Travellers seeking confirmation of the bilateral treaties. It’s a good tactic for reassurance, but it seems over the past five years that the constant stream of templated requests may be fraying the tempers of often under-staffed consulate offices.
I say this because I have observed changes in demeanour for some countries. Italy for example, from the Brisbane Consul in Australia, used to positively affirm use of the bilateral treaty. This then shifted to a more cautious ‘depends on the border officials’ and is now ‘treaty is under review – recommend you don’t rely on it’. Oh the other hand the Italian Consul in New Zealand is comparatively gushy in their posted “To whom it may concern” letter: “New Zealand Passport holders are allowed to travel to Italy and to stay in Italy for up to 180 days …”
Yet through many online forums over the past five years I have never heard yet of anyone not being able to legitimately use the Italian treaty. And Italy has submitted their treaties for coding in the new Entry/Exit System. If anyone has had an adverse experience let me know.
The fourth (d), if the EU country publicly confirms the Treaty as in-force. This is based on internet searches seeking current and positive confirmation that the bilateral treaty arrangements are considered in force. Websites for various CANZUS countries include: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, and Latvia.
And finally, column (e), perhaps the most powerful, indicates if the treaty details have been submitted for coding into the new Entry/Exit System due to be fired up in 2024. These are lsited in the List of Member States’ bilateral visa waiver agreements.
The more green the better. Red is bad. Absence of Green in column (e) is a huge warning alarm regardless of the other columns (a) to (d). Amber signifies some twist or caveat in the interpretation of the Treaty. And Grey means, well, nothing known – neither good nor bad.
The Entry/Exit System
The Entry/Exit System is planned for introduction with the European Travel Information and Authorization System in 2024.
I verified column (e) of the Table by referencing the EU document ‘List of Member States’ bilateral visa waiver agreements‘ confirming which bilateral treaties will be encoded into the Entry/Exit System. Interestingly, this EU list does not match perfectly with the known position of several countries. This is highlighted in the Table.
Australia has a government website ‘Smart Traveller‘ which lists Spain as a bilateral signatory. Spain effectively repudiated the agreement many years ago thru a gazette notice and did not propose Australia to the EU when the Exit/Entry System rules were finalized.
Conversely, Smart Traveller does not list Portugal and the Australian Treaty database cites the treaty as ‘no longer in force’ 19 July 1999. But Portugal listed Australia as an in-force agreement for coding into the Entry Exit System. The Portugese consul lists the 1963 Bilateral Treaty on their website here but the Ministry of Internal Administration only list the Decree No. 8/2002 in force at 30 March 2002 which effectively nullifies the bilateral. However, in breaking news, yet to be confirmed, a new Regulatory Decree No. 2/2022 may reverse this.
If you intend to rely upon Portugal for an extra 90 days it might be useful to get written confirmation from the Portugese Consul General in Sydney. Having said that – the EU bilateral list was assembled for hard-coding into the Entry/Exit System so perhaps it wouldn’t matter what they say?
I believe these and other anomalies exist because France, Spain and Portugal have all at various times caveated a number of their agreements with the sneaky proviso that the additional bilateral days are deemed to start upon crossing the external borders of the Schengen zone. In other words, with this verbal sleight of hand, you get NO additional days. Spain has gazetted confirmation that US citizens visiting Spain do indeed get an extra 90 days here. I cannot find similar for Kiwis and Canucks.
A few more funnies. Read More
According to an email from the Norwegian Embassy in Australia, one can expend ‘all’ Schengen days, spend 90 days in a bilateral treaty country, repeat 60/90 days as the case may be for the next bilateral treaty country (exception – Nordic countries) , and so on as long as you do not enter a non-bilateral treaty Schengen country before exiting the Schengen zone. BUT! Each of the Nordic countries offer 90 days to their respective treaty partners but the 90 day count includes days spent in the other Nordic countries. This appears to be a common rule from the Nordic countries based on a historical relic from the Nordic Passport Control Agreement which like most Bilaterals pre-dates the Schengen Aquis.
Belgium has clarified their bilateral arrangement as offering for 60 days but only at the end of the Schengen allowance. So, for example, if you only spent 40 days in say France and then moved to Belgium, your maximum stay in the Schengen zone would be 40+60=100 days.
The only bilateral visa waivers from Hungary for US citizens listed by the US State Department are for Official and Diplomatic passports. The Hungarian Government website further confirms this. The only bilateral visa waiver treaty with Poland for US citizens listed by the US State Department is the ‘Agreement relating to the reciprocal waiver of visa fees for performing artists’. I guess that might not apply to many of you? Or pack a ukelele and wing it?
The Bilateral Treaties are Not All the Same
The bilateral visa waiver treaties appear similar in format and introductory text, but the details are sometimes different. They all look the same but the terms absolutely are not. Most people seem to assume the Bilateral Treaty give a stock standard 90 day visa waiver. In many cases yes. But Australia-Belgium is 2 months. Australia-Italy allows return after one month. Germany has unlimited exit/entry. Sweden includes Nordic countries. Watch this space for updates as I explore the treaties I have not yet personally vetted.
For those Kiwis contemplating France, you should try reading your bilateral. In the France case for NZ, the bilateral treaty promises that you don’t have to obtain a visa in advance. No more. No mention at all of 90 days. So good luck. But happily with the new Exit/Entry System on the cusp of go-live, regardless of the content of the actual treaty – the hard-coded provisions that guide border guards will be as per the coding in the Exit/Entry System. So, 90 days from France for Kiwis. Vive La France!
Why do People Have Trouble Using the Bilateral Visa Waivers?
I suspect part of the problem with border officials recognizing the bilateral treaties is that they were generally concluded up to 40 years before said border official was even born. If someone waved a 70 year old typewritten document authored decades before the Schengen zone was ever contemplated in my face and claimed it was still valid I too would be skeptical.
The fact is that even our Governments get it wrong. Spain is still listed on the Australian Government website. And not everyone pays attention to the content/interpretation of the bilateral. They are not all identical. Some offer 90 days. Some offer 60 days. And many with 90 days are interpreted differently. France – yes 90 days from entering the Schengen zone. Sweden – yes 90 days from entering the Nordic countries.
May I suggest rather than trying to convince a border official to trust a document he has never seen that instead you show him a copy in his language of the EU document from the Official Journal of the EU available on the net titled List of Member States’ bilateral visa waiver agreements. In addition,prepare your documentation using Google Translate so your case is made in the language of the Border Officials. It may also help to read about others experience in Schengen-Shuffle and elsewhere. I documented my experience in Italy here.