Most countries in Europe are now a part of the European Union (EU) and a large part of the EU falls under the Schengen Agreement. Under the agreement, participating countries no longer have immigration control between their borders. Once you enter any one of the 26 Schengen countries, you’ll be given a stamp in your passport with an entry date and will be able to freely move from one country to another, without having to get another stamp in your passport.
If you’re a Canadian Citizen, with a valid passport, you can enter the Schengen area without any kind of visa and stay for up to 90 days. After your 90 days are up, you’ll have to wait another three months before you can return to any Schengen area again without a visa. 90 days in, followed by 90 days out is the general rule for Canadian passport holders.
Applying For a Visa
If you want to stay past 90 days, you’re going to have to apply for a visa. Fortunately, you’re a Canadian and there are many European countries that would love to have you in their homeland. This is where the Schengen Agreement can work in your favour. If you get a visa from one Schengen country, you’re considered a resident of that country, which means you’re welcome in all participating Schengen countries.
The Canadian Government has bilateral agreements with many European countries, the International Experience Canada (IEC) program allows young Canadians (18-35) to spend time abroad, gaining skills and experience. The IEC website is very easy to use and allows you to browse the different agreements available by country. The type of visa that you’ll likely be looking for is:
Working Holiday Visa: The Working Holiday category is designed for Canadian citizens who intend to travel in X country and who wish to find temporary paid employment to help pay for their stay (up to 12 months).
Some of the EU countries with visas that caught my eye include:
Estonia: Getting an Estonian visa seems fairly straight forward. You need to be aged 18-35, have a Canadian Passport, show that you can sustain yourself financially ($2,500CAD), purchase health insurance and “confirm (your) intention to travel in Estonia and work in order to supplement (your) financial resources.” The visa fee is 80 Euros. Visit the Estonian Embassy’s website for details.
Lithuania: “The purpose of the Agreement is to create the opportunities for youth to deepen their professional and language skills, study and work during holidays in another contracting state, and get to know its people and culture.” Very similar to the Estonian visa. You need to be aged 18-35, have a Canadian Passport, show that you can sustain yourself financially purchase health insurance. The visa fee is 60 Euros. Visit the Lithuanian Embassy’s website for details.
Norway:According to the Norwegian Embassy website, their country welcomes “all young adults who would like to experience living and travelling abroad and increase their employability.”You can begin the application process online at the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration’s website.‚ (Notes: Norway is not a member of the EU, but is part of Schengen. The Danish Embassy in Canada represents Norway in regards to visas.)
Germany: Germany has the standard bilateral agreements with Canada, an extensive selection of visas (all priced at 60 Euros) and the legendary “Self-Employed” and “Artist” visas that freelancers and creative types around the world love. You can read more about the application process for a “Self-Employed” visa here. Also, here is a link the the German Embassy’s visa page.
As mentioned, most European countries have a bilateral agreement with Canada. If you have your heart set on living in a certain country, I suppose it makes the most sense to pursue a visa from that country. However, if you’re self-employed and want to bounce around from country to country in the Schengen zone, or your country of choice doesn’t have any agreements with Canada, then it may be best to opt for one of the above visas. Some countries are stricter than others when it comes their visa policies. As a general rule of thumb, Eastern EU countries (former communist countries) are a lot more flexible. They’re looking to attract Westerners, not scare them off with immigration paperwork.
I’m currently in Hungary, a country that does not have a bilateral agreement with Canada. One Canadian that I know acquired a visa from one of the aforementioned countries and is living here in Budapest for the duration of his visa. He hasn’t had any problems.
I’ve also heard that if you’re a Westerner (Canada, USA, probably Australia) who comes to Hungary and applies for a residency visa on-site, it’s practically a formality, provided you can demonstrate that you won’t be a burden on the state. I suspect other Eastern European countries have a similar outlook.
Apply for European Citizenship
If you have the ancestry and are willing to put in the paperwork, getting your European citizenship is the best course of action. Once you have your citizenship, you’re set for life and can live and work in any EU country as long as you like.
I won’t go into too much detail on this, but keep in mind that if you have European ancestry, you may be able to claim citizenship. A rule of thumb is if you have a parent or grandparent who was born in Europe, you have a shot. I saw this map on Reddit’s I Want Out page that showed which countries accept ancestral claims and for how many generations. If you qualify, contact your country’s embassy or consulate and find out what steps are required to pursue citizenship.
It should be noted that I am not an immigration expert. I’m just a guy on the internet who has done some research and wants to help out fellow Canadians looking to enjoy a long-term stay in Europe. I should also disclose that I have never had to apply for a European visa as I have dual-citizenship (Canada/France). I’m quite fortunate. But it is nice to know that if my French citizenship somehow vaporized, I’d still be able to spend considerable time in Europe.
While using a country’s visa as a loophole to explore other parts of Europe may go against the spirit of the agreements in place, this seems to be a common practice for many long-term travelers. Popular travel blogger Nomadic Matt, (an American) has a written an excellent post on how to extend your stay past 90 days. He wanted to move to Sweden but found that their application process was taking too long, so he applied for a visa from France and was on his way. I’m sure that there are thousands of stories like this one happening across Europe.
As a Canadian citizen, staying in Europe for an extended period of time is very possible. All it takes is a bit of research, some paperwork and a bit of savings for you to spend a year or two exploring and enjoying life in up to 30 different countries. For as little as $60, that’s a heck of a deal.