In & Out of the Schengen Zone – what happened on the Ground
Firstly, I wish to advise that we have no legal or Australian customs and immigration qualifications and therefore you should make your own enquiries.
We can only pass on the results of our research and our experience of travelling in Europe over the past year on our Australian passports.
We have spent an inordinate amount of time researching what we call the “Schengen Challenge” for Australians travelling in Europe.
The physical borders in the Schengen area no longer exist, however in some areas you can see where they were.
The following is our experience to date and you will see that we have not really tested “the system” fully.
We heard many varying stories prior to leaving Australia, even about entering Britain from Australia, so we took a few precautions, just in case.
Some other Australian travellers had experienced challenges in many or all of the following areas and so we tried to take steps to minimise our risks:-
1 One way or return tickets
We were advised to have return tickets to Australia but as we had already booked one-way only tickets we elected to stay with what we had and take the risk.
Additionally, we were planning on travelling for around 2 years and unless changeable date tickets are booked (and you keep changing the return dates) it is not possible to book 2 years in advance. Changeable date tickets are usually more expensive.
2 State of Health
We both visited our GP and had him provide letters outlining the state of our health and listing any past illnesses and any medications we may have been taking.
3 Health Insurance
We had difficulty obtaining health insurance for more than 1 year, however eventually found an Australian company (Worldcare Travel Insurance Tel: 1800008614) who would provide cover for up to 2 years – we organised our policy in late 2016 so their policies may have changed now.
They provided 1 year to commence and then we needed to apply 1 month prior to the end of the first term to get the second year.
Additionally, we were able to suspend our Australian cover whilst we were away and have it reinstated with no penalty, on our return – our Australian health insurance is with CUA Health P: 1300 499 260 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org Level 21, 145 Ann Street, Brisbane QLD 4000 www.cua.com.au.
4 Financial Health
Our Tax Accountant provided us both with letters stating how much we both had in our Self Managed Super Fund Accounts to indicate self-sufficiency, financially.
5 Drivers Licence, Insurance, registration
I organised an International Drivers Licence through NRMA – by going in to one of their offices I was able to get one on the spot.
Unfortunately, they are only valid for 12 months so I left extra photos and a signed form with my daughter and she went back to the same office and got a licence for the second year period and mailed it to us.
6 Vehicle Ownership
I organised a letter signed by the previous owner detailing change of ownership including date, place, amount and vehicle information.
Our on the ground experiences are as follows:-
On arriving at Heathrow from Australia we stood in the Customs and Immigration line a little nervous about the one-way ticket but confident about all else.
The Immigration Officer, complete with turban, dark beard and an accent from the sub-continent asked us only 1 question – “How long will you be staying in the UK?” – “1 week” was our answer – he then rubber stamped our passport with the date and through we went – the stamp includes the text “Leave to enter for six months. Employment and recourse to public funds prohibited”
A week later (and having picked up our motorhome) we were booked to go across the English Channel on a car ferry to France, therefore entering the Schengen Zone.
The French Immigration Officer looked at our passports, asked no questions, rubber stamped them with the date and a symbol indicating we were entering France via car ferry and waved us through.
After about a month as we were driving along a German motorway we were pulled over by a German police car – we immediately thought the worst.
The German police officer informed us our bike covers were blowing around in the wind – he did not ask to see our drivers licence or passports – end of our conversation with him – he wished us a happy journey.
On exiting the toll booth on the Swedish side of the Oresund Bridge ($160 dollars poorer but richer for the experience) we had our passports checked by an Officer – he merely checked to see that the passport photos matched our faces, wished us a happy journey and waved us through.
On exiting Latvia going in to Lithuania our passports were checked – he merely checked to see that the passport photos matched our faces, wished us a happy journey and waved us through.
The first real test we thought was when we returned from France to England via the Chunnel.
We needed to return to England to organise the MOT for our motorhome which was due to be completed by the end of November 2017 (an annual event unfortunately).
As we had been in the Schengen zone for eight months we were waiting nervously in the queue as we slowly crept towards the French check point.
The French officer merely scanned our passports but did not rubber stamp them and waived us through.
We then progressed to the English check point where once again we were asked “How long will you be staying in the UK?” – “1 week” was our answer – he then rubber stamped our passport with the date and through we went – the stamp includes the text “Leave to enter for six months. Employment and recourse to public funds prohibited”.
Around a week later we returned to France via car ferry and the French Immigration Officer looked at our passports, asked no questions, rubber stamped them with the date and a symbol indicating we were entering France via car ferry and waved us through.
We have never been asked any other questions either by police or border officers.
On several occasions we have passed mobile roadside inspections points where we have slowed down to pull over but have been immediately waved through by the officials.
We thought we may have been checked when we travelled from Brindisi, Italy, to Igoumenitsa, Greece, by car ferry but no checks were made at all.