My husband and I will be traveling all over Europe this summer (Schengen and non-schengen counties. We know that we can stay in Schengen counties for up to 90 days without a visa. We have heard that if you get a visa from one of the schengen counties you would be able to travel freely through the other counties over the 90 days. Does anyone know what the cheapest/easiest visa is to get? Is a Schengen visa the same as a country visa? We are both United States citizens.
Here's an article that addresses your questions.
Good luck. As Matt says, it's complicated, and there are some tricky hoops to jump through.
A Schengen Visa is not easy to get. You have to have an address where you are going to live. I’m pretty sure they are not issued for the purpose of just traveling around. You have to present, in person, all kinds of documentation proving that you have sufficient income and medical insurance so that you will not become a burden to the social services of the member countries.
That being said, do you understand that the 90 days need not be consecutive? How long will your trip be? If some of your destinations are non-Schengen, you can travel around, just keeping track of the number in. By the way, it’s 90 out of 180. The clock does not reset when you leave and start over at 1 when you return. Take that last seriously. Arrival and departure days count as in. Many people have been caught upon departure and had stiff fines levied, like €500. For you that would be x 2.
Getting a visa from one country and freely traveling is need not only a visa but a residency permit. At least in Italy that is the case. We lived there, arriving under an Elective Residence Visa and acquiring a residency permit which was renewable annually. It was not easy. If you do not intend to establish a home in Europe, the easiest way is to spend your 90 out of 180 days wisely, going to non-Schengen countries (the UK for example) to rest your Schengen clock.
I highly recommend just planning enough non-Schengen time to be safe. That is a much easier approach. It doesn't sound as if your entire trip will be terribly long, and you can occupy yourselves either in the Ireland/UK or in Croatia/Montenegro/Serbia/Bosnia-Herzegovina/Romania/Bulgaria. The second option will be less expensive if your itinerary takes you over that way. There's also Morocco if you're going to be in southern Spain--but both Morocco and southern Spain are best visited during a cooler time of year. And there's Turkey, too. Plus the various countries formerly part of the Soviet Union.
Last year we traveled five months in Europe. Here’s how. One month each in Ireland and Scotland which are not Schengen Zone countries and the other three months (88 days to be exact) in Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and Greece, which are in the Schengen Zone.
Next summer we will travel for four months. Three months in Schengen countries and one month in Cyprus.
Someone recommended a Schengen visa...a Schengen Visa is for people whose passport does not allow them to travel in the Schengen Zone without a separate visa. As a US citizen a Schengen Visa does not apply to you.
In order to stay within the Schengen Zone for more than 90 days in 180 you need to get a long term visa for a country within the Schengen Zone. If you just want to travel this is not going to be possible. You have to prove you have a reason to be there. You have to provide an address, often register with the local police, prove income, etc. It's a difficult process that involves a great deal of bureaucracy
Just FYI here is the link to the French Consulate in Los Angeles that shows the steps in the very long process of applying for a French long-stay visa.
Like others have recommended it's usually easiest to divide your time between Schengen and non-Schengen countries, being careful not to exceed 90 days in every rolling 180 day period..