Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Greece ~ Do We Stay or Do We Go? The Schengen Shuffle

 
We do the Schengen Shuffle - as I call it -  every time we come to live at our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese.  That means we can set the travel dates, but not the length of stay.  90 days in, then 90 days out.

Our Stone House on the Hill is small when compared to the mountain behind us
When you are an American traveling on a tourist visa - as we are - to one of 26 European countries participating in the Schengen Treaty (aka Schengen Border Agreement) you have to abide by its 90-day rule. The agreement while making borders hassle- and visa- free for residents of the Treaty countries, puts limitations on the stays for the rest of us who also are here without visas. So strict are the rule, that it can impact you even if you are transiting through an airport within the Schengen area. If you've hit your 90-day limit in one country and are heading home via an airport in another Schengen country, the authorities can deny you entry into that country for the few hours you planned to spend at the airport waiting for your next flight if your schedule has you exceeding the limit.

          Schengen Countries:
    • All European Union countries, except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom, are members of the Schengen Borders Agreement.
    • In addition, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein are also members of the Schengen Borders Agreement (but they are not European Union members).

An old olive oil press now on display in the village of Milea
In our case, 90 days would sufficiently cover most of the spring and fall seasons we planned to be here. But now that we are adapting to this part-time ex pat life, we are finding its inflexibility a bit confining. If we stay 90 days in the spring we must wait 90 days to return in the fall. So what if we want to come back or extend our spring stay by a week or so to attend a summer event? Or return a week early for the Agios Nicholaos Sardine Festival? Or Kalamata's White Night in August - a shopping entertainment extravaganza that makes US 'White Sales' simply pale in comparison?

No way. Can't do it, unless. . .

. . . you have a Resident Visa.  Then you can come and go as you please and stay as long as you want.. You could move and live here full time. But obtaining a resident visa isn't a simple matter for Americans in any Schengen country it seems. It can be done as has been proven by fellow blogger friends and U.S. ex pats, Anita and Richard who've moved to Portugal and told their journey through 'visa land' in their blog, No Particular Place to Go  and Karen and Rich, in Spain,( Enjoy Living Abroad). Both couples have just recently obtained Resident Visas for their respective countries - a cause for much jubilation to be sure!

The Land of Kalamata Olives and Taygetos Mountains

To Visa or Not to Visa?

We've toyed with the idea of obtaining a resident visa but after the paperwork and documentation involved in buying a house, we needed some down time. We'd spent too much time in Greek government, law, and accountant offices and banks. Now, rested up two years later, we are ready - we think. . .maybe - to tackle the residency process.

In order to buy the house we had to obtain Greek tax identification numbers (standing in line at the tax office still a vivid memory). Did I ever tell you that we each file an annual income tax statement here? It's required if you own property whether you earn money here or not. Once we had the tax ID number we could present it and numerous documents from the U.S. (including a copy of our marriage license which we ended up needing at the tax office but not the bank) to open a Greek bank account, which we also had to have to buy the house.

Both are requirements for a resident visa. Why,we already had a jump on the process, we thought! Then we got the additional ' what is required' list from our attorney:

1) current passports

2) visa stating that you are intend to apply for residency in Greece as economically independent individuals. ('For the details you must ask at the Greek Consulate.')

3) electronic fee payment of 300 euros ($339) per person. This will be issued from a Greek bank and it will be attached in the application for the residency.

4) Health insurance coverage :
 a)  If it is an American policy it has to state clearly that you are covered in Greece. The minimum costs that should be mentioned are:
for Permanent total incapacitation at least 15,000 euro
for medical care at least 1,500 euro
for hospitalization at least 10,000 euro
Your participation must be at least 20%.

b) If you choose to do a Greek Insurance the above should be covered. Your participation must be at least 20%.

5) your tax declaration  as well as any other official document showing your income. Each one of you must have a minimum amount of 2,000 euros ($2,260US) per month. This is the amount that Greek state sets as minimum.

All of the documents must be certified by a Notary stamp.


Gulf of Messinia and Taygetos Mountains from The Stone House on the Hill


Well, at least they no longer require a medical exam and chest x-ray - those were requirements up until two years ago.

However, they do require a face-to-face interview in which you explain why you want the permit. An American couple who live here full time, completed the process over the course of some six months and said they had to appear before a panel of Greeks and explain why they wanted to live in Greece. A painless, but somewhat intimidating step at the time, they now recall it with laughter.

We've researched and found health insurance through a Greek company which meets the required thresholds. We've yet to meet with our attorney -- that will likely happen sometime before we leave this spring. We'll then gather documents and Notary stamps this summer and begin the formal process in the fall after we've purchased the insurance.

For the time being we'll continue the Schengen Shuffle. 90 in and 90 out.


Olive trees and Mountains - The Stone House on the Hill sits amid them both

How about you? You've probably found a place in your travels where you've dreamt of living. Have you found such a place?  Did you check out the visa requirements for doing so?

That's it for this week ~ We'll be back with more tales from The Stone House on the Hill next week and hope you be back here as well.  To those of you in Greece, Happy Easter Week.

Linking up this week with other bloggers at:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday –  Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

50 comments:

  1. This is so enlightening! In my dreams of living abroad somewhere, I've never given a thought to all of these complex regulations! Good information for the future, possibly! Good luck!

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    1. It isn't quite as romantic as it sounds 'move to Greece or France or Italy' is it? We'll continue to ponder the possibilities a resident permit would provide. Thanks for the visit Amy.

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  2. Lovely place - I'd definitely try to get a visa.

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    1. We'll certainly give it some serious thought! Thanks for the linkup ~

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  3. Love your catchy phrase, "The Schengen Shuffle!" Looks like the requirements for both Greece and Portugal are fairly similar but the minimum income requirement for Greece is about triple of what's required in PT. We'll have to compare costs of living between the two countries one of these days, Jackie. Lots of paperwork but the upside of the residence visa is that not only can you stay in your beautiful "Stone House on the Hill" for as long as you want but you can explore the rest of Europe at your leisure, too. It doesn't get much better than that!

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    1. We were a bit taken back by the minimum income level per month per person (old age pension and Social Security aren't quite that generous) but we've been told they will consider investment portfolios. I'd think if I could buy a house here, I could probably afford to live here, but oh, there I go thinking logically again. Never know what the future holds so we'll keep pondering our options for awhile. . .

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  4. What a nightmare. I had gone to visit my sons in the US. and had them stop me at another Schengen country asking me questions. I have to tell you Jackie, I am so exasperated with Greece right now, the lawyers have been on strike for over 2 months and everything is at a stand still, but I'm sure you know that. The other thing that infuriates me is how bureaucratically backward we are in terms of paperwork and how althought we do have computers in the offices one branch does not communicate with the other. I wish you the best of luck no matter what you choose to do.

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    1. We just went to the post office as we had time dated materials that we needed to express mail to the United States and the post office said the legal sized manila envelope was too big and they'd have to send it snail mail. 10 days. So we went to our local Western Union and tried to have them sent by courier, cost 51 euros and no guarantee they would reach the US in five days. Finally, the wonderful woman who works there, suggested she scan the documents for us and we send them by email. Worked like a charm. Cost: 5 euro!

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  5. I love your term...the Schengen Shuffle. We had to do this shuffle when we were in Europe for our 18 month holiday. We spent a lot of the time in Croatia and Turkey with visits to England and New York to fill in the rest! Getting a resident visa would be worth the hassle I'm sure! I'm surprised the Greeks aren't welcoming you with open arms and making it a lot easier!

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    1. Jenny, we met a couple of Canadians two weeks ago who had set out to travel the world for a year and were in their third week of a planned two-month stay here when they first learned of Schengen and were in a pickle over what to do with travel plans that no longer matched the 90-day visa requirement. Thanks for the comment~

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  6. The Greeks don't make all this up. They have to comply with European Union Rules as well as the Schengen Agreement. It would be similar (or even more complicated) in Germany or say Finland. And remember, this is reciprocal. We don't let anyone stay and live in the US without a lot of applications, background checks etc. Often people are denied. We have German friends who own a house in Delaware but can only stay 90 days. They have been denied resident permits (there is a quota) so have to comply with the visa limits.

    The hard part is finding out just what you need. Good job Jackie and Joel! Looking forward to how it all develops. Nothing is easy. We just spent 2 hours at the bank in Kardamyli trying to get new ATM cards. Worked finally!

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    1. Yes, each Schengen country has its interpretation. If note Anita's comment above the minimum income requirement here is triple that of Portugal, so they all put their own spin on it. (You would enjoy her tales of getting theirs in Portugal.

      We have other expat friends here who live here full time and had to get new ATM cards and said it was a lengthy drawn out process even though the banker knows them the rules have changed and new documents were required.
      And yes, we know the US is difficult as well as we've had Swedish neighbors who worked in high tech and had a dickens of a time getting residency and a friend recently married a man from Paris - 18 months later he is allowed in the US. But was turned away from a bar because he didn't have US gov't id proving he was in his 30's - go figure! Thanks for the comment Peggy!

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  7. Very interesting! I have never been involved in this type of process and the process, while fascinating to hear about, sounds very complicated. Best wishes!

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    1. It is an interesting agreement that affects not only ex pats but visitors as well. As I mentioned above, we were surprised to meet a couple who'd set off to travel the world and hadn't done their research before leaving home. They were in a dither!

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  8. Hello Joel and Jackie

    Travel is not simple. I hope you get this sorted and that you have more freedom to travel more freely and when you choose.
    Your home in Greece sounds marvellous.
    Helen xx

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    1. Thanks, Helen. The other thought we have is just enjoy the time we have here and live within the constraints - who knows how long we'll even be able to come back and forth? Hugs, J.

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  9. I think that you really have the right attitude - just take it slowly. And in France you still have to do the exam and x-ray! ;)

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    1. By the time we get around to doing anything - if we do - they'll probably have returned that requirement to the mix. Seems there was no mention of a criminal background check on our list and I could have sworn that was also a requirement when we first talked about this and I suspect it was inadvertently omitted. Thanks for writing, Heather.

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  10. I had no idea that you had to do the 90/90 shuffle - what a hassle.

    I hope everything goes smoothly, but after living in Jamaica and the red tape we had to go through, I know nothing ever runs smoothly.

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    1. We may just continue with the 90/90 - it certainly isn't a bad way to do it, just a bit inflexible. And yes, every country, Schengen or not has its red tape. Thanks for the visit!

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  11. get a visa and enjoy Greece whenever you want it:) #weekend travel inspiration

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  12. yes, the Schengen Shuffle, how much easier travel in Europe was before this agreement that was intended to make travel in Europe so much easier! We've kicked around the idea of buying a place as ex pats with our sights set on a few possible locations. It'll be interesting to see how it all falls out for you both. Best of luck! #wkendtravelinspiration

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    1. Well, Jim, if you've read the comments here you know that each country adds its own twist to resident visa requirements from health to income. Check those things before making any decisions. #wkendtravelinspiration

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  13. I think the Schengen thing is such a pain, too. For people who want to spend an extended period of time whether they're homeowners like you or visitors like me, it's a nightmare. Constantly counting the days, complicating matters by going in an out of non-Schengen countries, etc. I wish each country was an individual thing.

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    1. Yes, when traditional media had banner headlines about the EU considering removing Greece from Schengen because of the refugee crisis, I kept wondering what would be so bad about that!

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  14. Hi Jackie, we've the same problem because George is a South African although we need even to apply for a tourist visa for him which is valid for a year (it can be that he gets one for five years after some time). But it's still three months in three months out. Annoying! But we shuffle now with the UK and Ireland and return afterwards to Europe again. I guess it makes sense to apply for a residence visa if you stay in one country or similar. In France there is a tourist visa for a year ... #boomertravelbloggers

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    1. I guess it is the price we pay for living the travel life and catching daydreams. Thanks for sharing your experiences. #boomertravelbloggers

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  15. The process sounds daunting and infuriating but the possible reward (assuming the process is a one and done) would be wonderful. It's kind of like making people go through a year of marriage and financial counseling before they can get married. It would scare away a lot of people but the ones who did it would probably be very committed! (But in this case all of those counselors would have to actually show up to work!).

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    1. Good points Kay! We were told way back when that we needed to take pre marriage classes at a particular church before marrying. We 'church shopped' until we found one that didn't require it . . .now almost 36 years ago.

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  16. My goodness what a hassle. I am so glad I live in a country I love in a country that has green fields Beautiful scenery and very friendly people.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Margaret. Guess this is just something that you must consider when you have two lives both in beautiful parts of two countries and you are surrounded by friendly people in each.

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  17. Gosh it seems like an awful lot of hassle. I love your term The Schengen Shuffle though. I would imagine a resident visa would be worth it in the end, unless you enjoy being made to take a regular break from Greece.

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    1. I think you are right Jo and we certainly would like to spend as much time there as possible! Thanks much for the comment.

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  18. My husband in an American and moved to the UK to marry me so we know all about the horrors of VISA applications. Good luck with yours.

    Mollyxxx

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    1. I have been made to understand that the US makes it just as difficult, so I guess turnabout is fair play, right? Thanks much for commenting Molly.

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  19. As a European citizen living within the Schengen area, our lives have been made immeasurably easier. We no longer need passports to travel, just an ID card which everyone carries with them anyway. With the incredibly cheap discount airlines, you could literally hop on a plane for a day or two on a whim. When I travel outside Schengen I have to be reminded to dig out my passport.

    When I go to the US, where a big part of my family lives, I too have to get a visa - and have to abide by a number of rules that make travel difficult - like having stamps from certain countries in my passport, which are cause for a visa to the US being turned down...

    What happens with freedom of movement inside is the strengthening of borders outside. For a time, before Switzerland joined Schengen, many French border guards were redeployed to the Swiss border, making that one of the most guarded in Europe. Now in Schengen, the only thing anyone at the border cares about is whether you've bought subsidized foods on the other side of the border.

    If I had a say in the matter, I'd abolish them all! Thank you for sharing your views - an interesting piece.

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    1. Hello Scribetrotter (I love that name!) and thank you for such a thoughtful response. I am glad to hear that Schengen has made travel easier for those of you residents there. And as you and others have noted, it isn't a piece of cake coming the other direction either -- guess if you love a place as we do Greece, then it is time to buck up and go for it! Hope you'll be back again and offer more insights~

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  20. I can see why you want to be able to spend more time there, what a beautiful place. The whole visa thing sounds like a bit of a headache really.

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    1. I suspect it will be and hopefully the gain will be worth the pain! Thanks much for stopping by~

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  21. I share your pain of the visa process! Although it would be worth it in Greece.. We sold our home in Mexico mostly due to the visa hassles and tax requirements. i spent more time in the tax office ( needed to file monthly) than on the beach. It's easier to do the "shuffle" in Mexico as it's a quick trip across the border to Mexico but I can imagine it's tougher in Greece given all the participating countries. Good luck with everything!

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    1. Oh, I had to laugh at your mention of Mexico as we owned homes there 20 some years ago and I used to return from trips there pale and friends would ask why no suntan. I would say when my day was divided between the hardware store and the tax office (FM3's, you know) it is difficult to get any sun. Thanks much for the reminder of my 'good ol' days'!

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  22. I have a friend who is going through this hassle right now in Hungary, hoping to getting the resident visa in time to avoid The Shuffle but now afraid he will have to go to Croatia for awhile. Here in Mexico, it's a whole lot easier. With a tourist visa, you automatically get 6 months in the county. When that's up, all you have to do is walk or drive across any border (or fly out), then turn around and come right back in again and you get another 6 months. I know people who have been doing that for years rather than go through the hassle of getting a resident visa. Good luck with whichever way you decide to go.

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    1. We were hoping that 'out for a day or two' provision applied and we'd have been able to accomplish our plans for travel and longer stays. Unfortunately the rules aren't the same. Thanks much for the good wishes Donna and hope your friend makes it through the process!

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  23. Wow! I didn't realize that resident visa requirements were so onerous.

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    1. That's one of the reasons I wrote this post, Irene. We met a Canadian couple (of our type age) who'd picked up and decided to spend a year traveling in Europe. They were sitting in a hotel lobby in Greece where they'd planned to spend a considerable amount of time and just learned of Schengen. . .they were in quite a state figuring out where to go or what to do next as their 90 days were close to being up.

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  24. You may have already done this, but make sure to find out how this all affects your US tax situation. You don't want to end up with any nasty double taxation surprises down the road!

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    1. Thanks for the tip Rachel. We already file the required FACTA documents here in the US and also file income tax returns annually in Greece. Once we became property owners we did set up a dual life when it comes to financial reporting.

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  25. Has it already been two years since you became owners of the Stone House on the Hill? Malaysia has a "Malaysia My 2nd Home" (MM2H) program to encourage expats to move there. Some companies have even sprouted up to guide people through the process as so many expats are interested in making their move permanent. The hardest requirement is making a bank deposit of USD74,272 in a Malaysian bank and then keeping at least half that amount in the account from the 2nd year out. I've heard that if people decide to give up their resident visa, it takes a very long time to get all the money out of their account.

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    1. Oh I loved this story Michele - that is amazing. The financial part of Greece's requirements the 2,000 euros per month per person seems incredibly high to me but I guess they don't want deadbeats moving into the country who will further sap the economy. Actually with their new economic sanctions and difficulties in getting money out of the banks once you put it in, would make me real hesitant to be purchasing a home in Greece right now. Glad we bit the bullet and did it when we did.

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