Visa-less Americans dread Czech entry to Schengen zone

11-12-2007

When the Czech Republic enters the Schengen zone on December 21, it will bring in an era of passport-free travel for Czechs abroad. But not everyone is looking forward to the change. Entry to the Schengen zone could spell trouble for the sizeable number of Americans who have, up until now, been living and working in Prague without a visa.

Up until now, it was possible for Americans to live in the Czech Republic without a visa. It maybe wasn’t all that kosher, but required nothing more than a trip to one of the Czech Republic’s neighbours, like Germany or Austria, to get a stamp in the passport every 90 days. A visa was only required for those staying for longer than 90 days on Czech soil, so four visits abroad per year enabled you effectively to live in the Czech Republic.

But things are about to get more complicated: as of December 21 visa-less US citizens will only be allowed to remain in the Czech Republic, or any other part of the Schengen area, for a maximum of 90 days over any six-month period. Living here without a visa will no longer be an option for American citizens.

And what’s more, anyone wishing to apply for a visa will have to do so outside of the Schengen zone. The closest consulates will be in Kiev, Bucharest or Zurich.

“Whatever window there was for living here when I arrived seems to be closing.”

Four years ago Jay Warner set up home in Prague’s Zizkov district, he has since been working as a proof-reader and English teacher in the city. But now he, like many other Americans in the capital, is considering moving elsewhere:

“In the four years that I have been living in Prague, I’ve never had anything but a tourist visa. I’ve never wanted anything but a tourist visa. Why should I? Why should my employers? They get to pay me without any bureaucracy entering into their lives, and I get to live without any bureaucracy entering into my life. And I see this as the end of an era, when it comes to all that.”

The American Embassy estimates that around 5,000 US citizens live in the Czech Republic, but it doesn’t know how many of them are here, like Jay Warner, without the proper documentation.

Despite the anxiety of some US citizens, the official standpoint of the American Embassy in Prague is that the Czech Republic’s entrance into the Schengen zone is a good thing. Stuart Hatcher is the American Consul General:

“The entry of the Czech Republic into the Schengen zone is in general a positive thing. It means that it will be easier for people to travel around Europe.”

Mr Hatcher sees the fears being voiced by some of Prague’s expat community as unfounded:

“I think that people are concerned right now because of the uncertainty that comes with any kind of a change. But I have a feeling that in the end, it’s not really going to disrupt people’s lives, because I don’t think it’s really going to be that big a change from the current situation.”

The Consul General advises Americans to direct their questions to the Czech foreign police. And they’ve not got long to do so before the whole system is transformed.

11-12-2007