Overstaying Schengen Visa? / by Anthony Brooks

Right from the beginning of my trip, I had one set of guidelines that I HAD TO FOLLOW (or so I thought). I could only be in the Schengen Area for 90 days and then I would have to move south to the Balkans for at least 90 days before I could come back. This wasn't a rule that I was willing to break as even after spending 90 days in, there were always going to be more than a handful of places left to go to and experience. Or at least that was my mindset for the first month or so of my travels. 

By the time I reached Vienna (mid-to-late October), I was planning to completely ignore the Schengen overstay rules and most likely spend something closer to 100-105 days in before heading south to Belgrade, Serbia. Just going by word-of-mouth rumors that I had heard during my wandering, and some articles (very few and most not up to date), the border crossings were a joke and they rarely checked. That's what I read for the first couple of months and so by the time I was nearing the 90-day mark, I really didn't stress very much. At least, until it was a few days AFTER my point of staying too long when I started looking at the most recent posts and seeing how the Hungarian/Serbian border had been significantly beefed up in recent years/months. Then I was worried. If they're setting up walls with regular patrols and checking every passport that goes through, the chances of me being caught and fined/banned temporarily from most of Europe seemed high. Too high for me to simply brush away as if it were nothing. 

At first, it had me stressed. I'm already on a budget and paying astronomical fines wasn't going to help anything. Besides that, what if the flights from non-European countries were much more expensive? Then what? Then, after 2 or 3 days of freaking out a bit, I did as I've always done when it comes to getting into trouble. I accepted the fact that I probably would and just decided that if it comes down to it, at least I'll have an interesting story and afterward, I would just head east after the Balkans and see places that I previously wasn't too interested in. The trip wouldn't end because of my mistake. 

Somehow, I got lucky. My plans for seeing other places as a last resort may still hold some water as this trip has been amazing and I don't want it to stop at just Europe. But back to the story at hand. I got onto my train (after being in Budapest, Hungary for 7 days more than I'm legally allowed; I was an illegal alien). I had read that if you take the night train, they collect the passports when you board to avoid issues with sleeping passengers down the line. As I was still in Hungary, this was one of the biggest stressors of the entire ordeal. A stressor which proved to be without grounds. They didn't check passports until after we had already been on the train for a few hours, about 30 minutes from the Serbian border. So I was able to get some sleep in between those timeframes (it was around 4-4.5 hours from Budapest to that point). Luckily, there were a few men without passports who appeared to be from a more Middle-Eastern region and the male guards focused on them. The significance of that is that they were spending much, much longer on counting days between stamps and checking for overstays. The female guard that checked mine just scanned it, stamped it, and handed it back within seconds. I was obviously relieved, but it wasn't over yet. There was no outward bound stamp which meant that there would be another check at the Serbian border. After waiting around an hour, we arrived in Subotica, Serbia and more guards boarded the train. They didn't seem to be in good moods so again, I was a bit perplexed at exactly how I made it through their inspection without issue. 

After all, hadn't all of the articles warned about how there's essentially no way to get out undetected? That's why I had been stressing so long and why my last few days in Budapest were spent either drawing or worrying about what may lie ahead. It wasn't pleasant. 

Now, this is all quite obviously just anecdotal. If you or someone that you know goes to travel Europe and ends up overstaying their visa, they may not get away scot-free. I probably got lucky. That being said, nobody that posts seems to be someone who's actually overstayed a visa and when they say you'll be arrested/fined/deported/etc... they're just regurgitating what they've heard/read. I wanted to type out my experience for someone to use as a reference and possibly learn from. Don't push your boundaries and overstay. It's a bigger deal that it seems and with all of the refugees coming up through the Balkans, Hungary has strengthened their border security exponentially. 

Anywho, that's all. Just a recounting of my worrying and experience. All of the jokes about getting caught, experiencing a Hungarian jail, and stupid fines ended up being funnier since they didn't come to fruition. Still, a story's a story. :)