Bottom line up front: if you plan to stay in Czechia, or in Europe, for longer than 90 days, the information in this post is essential, and could help you avoid steep fines and even temporary banishment 😳 from the continent.
In this post, we’re primarily concerned with individuals who want to live and work in Czechia for one year or longer. But if you plan to stay in Czechia (or elsewhere in Europe) longer than 90 days, the information below about the Schengen zone is important for you, so read on.
Timing matters when applying for your visa
Timing is really important when applying for your Czech visa, and here’s why. This whole visa process, from start to finish, can take several months. But, before you have that visa, you can only technically BE in Czechia (or anywhere in the Schengen zone—more on that in a minute) for 90 days, or three months, before you turn into a pumpkin 🎃and get sent home. That means you want to get your visa started and processed as soon as possible when you arrive.
To understand the urgency of the visa process, you have to understand the Schengen Zone. Czechia is part of the Schengen Zone.
How the “Schengen Zone” affects your European travel
The Schengen zone includes most of what you think of as “Europe”, but it doesn’t include Ireland, the UK, former Yugoslav states and more. Basically it’s all the blue states on the map below. The Schengen zone is different than the European Union, though those two groups mostly overlap.
The states in blue area allow for borderless travel, meaning you can fly or drive or take the train across borders, without having to pass through border control at every border. That’s why you don’t get your passport stamped, for example if you fly from France to Italy, but you do get stamped when you fly from the United Kingdom to Italy. (Be aware, that within the Schengen zone, police in every state still have the authority to ask you for your passport at any time, it’s just not mandated at borders. Never travel long distances in the Schengen zone without your passport.)
If you’re a citizen of a non-Schengen state, you need a 90-day short term visa to enter any country in the Schengen zone. Most of these travelers must apply from their home country for this short-term visa.
Luckily for citizens from some countries, for example those citizens from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are given a 90-day short-term visa, basically a tourist visa, automatically simply by holding your nation’s passport. This allows you to travel around the Schengen Zone without applying for a short-term, 90-day visa before you arrive. (To see if citizens from other countries get a 90-day short term visa waiver, check the list here.)
After your 90-days in the Schengen zone have finished, you have to leave, and you cannot return until 90 days after that. Basically 3 months on, 3 months off.
Some people mistakenly think you can leave the Schengen zone for the weekend (Weekend in London or Dubrovnik?), come back and have your 990-Day Tourist visa “re-set” for another 90-days. This is totally wrong, and you can get fined or banned from the Schengen zone for a year, so don’t try this.
Think of it this way: in any 180 Day period, you are only allowed to be in the Schengen Zone for a total of 90 days. You might come for a week, leave and come back, but if you count back to a 180 day period, you can only be in the Schengen Zone for a total of 90 of those days.
If this seems a little confusing, or if you plan to take a short trip to another Schengen Zone Country before moving to Prague, it’s best to plug your dates into a Schengen zone calculator to check how many days out of 90 you have.
The best time to start the visa process
But didn’t I just say that the visa process itself can take several months? Does that mean you should just start the Czech visa process before you arrive in the Schengen Zone?
Unfortunately, that’s very difficult, because you need to sign a lease to a flat in Czechia, before you start the visa application process. It sounds totally backwards, I know.
Do not be tempted to sign a lease from an ad you see on the internet before you ever see the flat in person. There are lots of scams out there. 99% of Americans apply for their visa once they arrive here in Czechia and after they have a chance to rent a flat in person.
Since the process of applying for the long-term visa can take several months, you’ve got to get started as soon as you arrive in the Schengen zone. If you spend a few weeks in Barcelona or Amsterdam before coming to Prague, you’re 90-day clock started when you touched down in those cities, so you might want to consider this when making your travel plans.
The takeaway? It’s best to start your visa process as soon as you arrive in the Schengen Zone.
Don’t worry—if you follow the calendar and sequential steps we use in our Dream Prague Visa course, you’ll be fine. Want to learn more about the Visa process? Check out the first module for free below.