Way back when we first started looking into moving on board and doing all the research that entailed, we learned about the Schengen Agreement which limits the stay of non EU residents (like us) to 90 days in any 180 day period in a list of EU countries. Well, we learned about it and then we put any thought of it on the back burner as we set off for the Caribbean, Europe was a long way away and we would figure that out when the time came. The time is here, and we are still attempting to figure it out. We thought once we arrived in Europe we would meet other cruisers that had researched ways to prolong their stay and learn from them, not so lucky. Now that we are here we are finding that there are not an abundance of US citizens traveling around for months, everyone we have met either seems to have duel citizenship or are EU residents with passports that allow them to travel freely between countries for as long as they'd like. We have been told so many different things, mostly that no one cares and not to worry about it. But we've also heard stories of people that have overstayed the 90 days, have been stopped by customs when they go to leave and now have illegal immigrant stamped on their passports making it virtually impossible for them to return to Europe in the future, we're not really willing to risk that. So our research has started in earnest.
We had made an appointment with the Italian consulate in NYC when we are back in the states in December. Our best bet seemed to attempt to get an Italian Elective Residency Visa, which requires us to show proof that we have the financial means to live without working, have paid health insurance for the upcoming year, and the toughest one, that we have a permanent place to live in Italy, a moving sailboat does not qualify. But we had figured out that last sticking point too, we could ask a Italian friend or relative, the list is pretty short, to sponsor us. They would have to write a letter saying we were staying with them, which we were hoping was not a huge ask. Just as we were feeling pretty confident that we had everything in place we were hit with a realization, we had already overstayed our 3 month limit here, how could we walk into the Italian consulate with proof of that stamped on our passports? Just for the record, we do usually follow the rules, but time goes by and optimistically you think it's all just going to work out.
So we suddenly need to come up with a plan B. Without a visa the only other alternative is to stay out of the participating EU countries for three months to reset the 180 day period. So with that in mind, we are not returning to the boat in January as planned, we will have to experience winter sailing another time since we will not be moving back onto Spindrift until the beginning of March. A new dilemma, but one that we will enjoy figuring out, what will we do with all this new found time? The wind will not be determining our travels for awhile, but we hope to enjoy traveling to places the boat can't take us and spending lots of time with the friends and family we have missed so much. Our kids say they could never get tired of us, we will see. And planning our itinerary when we return has changed as well, we will be in the Med until November when we set sail back to the Caribbean, eight months more. There are a few countries nearby that are not included in the Schengen agreement, traveling to Croatia, Montenegro and Tunisia are now all options to help extend our time in the EU.
Since we are now leaving the boat for the winter there is a long list of repairs and maintenance to take care of before we go, and as we head to the airport to fly home our fingers will be crossed that no one will look too closely at the stamps on our passports and do the math. We are counting on the friendly, easy going spirit of the Italian people to send us on our way.