The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has created a tizzy among travelers worldwide. Those who are in other countries on a tourist visa may find themselves stuck. This happens when those countries resort to border closures and travel restrictions.
In the past few weeks, travel restrictions have become a norm in many countries. This is done to stop the further spread of COVID-19. Foreigners coming from the most affected countries are especially blocked from entry. Since COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic, the travel restrictions have become even more stringent.
On March 17, all EU Member States unanimously decided to combat the COVID-19 crisis. They approved on a plan proposed by the EU Commission to close the external borders of the Schengen Area. This blocked foreigners from entering the Schengen Zone unless the purpose of travel is essential.
The preventive measure has great significance. This is because Europe is currently a hotspot of the pandemic. After China, Europe has the largest number of COVID-19 cases. Even many non-EU countries have imposed travel restrictions against European countries, especially Italy.
With such an active scenario, flight cancellations have gone high. It leaves foreign travelers in European countries in trouble. The situation escalates when the Schengen visas they have entered Europe with, are nearing expiry. Overstaying in Schengen nations invites penalties.
How to deal with the situation?
If you are a tourist stranded in a Schengen country owing to flight cancellation, you needn’t panic. The penalties you are worried about won’t be imposed in the current situation owing to COVID-19. The best thing to do is to apply for an extension of visa to the competent authorities of the area you are in. Article 33 of the EU Visa Code gives some important instructions to travelers in this regard. These travelers are visa holders already in a Member State territory, unable to leave before the expiry of his visa.
- The inability for departure could be due to force majeure, serious personal reasons or humanitarian reasons
- The traveler should make a request for extension of the visa
- This request should be made to the competent authorities of the Member State where he/she is present. It does not matter if the particular Member State’s consulate hasn’t issued the visa
If you are unable to fly out due to COVID-19, the situation will be considered under force majeure. The situation is defined as “last-minute change of flight schedule by the airline (e.g. due to weather conditions, strike, etc.)”. In such a case, no charges will be imposed on you to extend your visa.
A visa extension approved will be granted for a stay to a maximum period of 90 days in any 180-day period. This stay will be allowed free of charge. The facility is provided to help you find enough time to arrange a means of commercial transport to exit the EU. This could be a flight too.
What if your Visa-Free stay in the EU is about to expire?
Certain countries are granted a visa-free stay in the EU. This means that a Schengen visa is not necessary to stay in the EU. If you are from such a country and are stuck in the EU for lack of flights, you have the same options as with force majeure.
For you, a general permit to stay in Schengen countries is valid for up to 90 days. If the 90 days period has expired, you can apply for a long-stay visa with the competent authorities of the Member State you are currently in.
What about flights canceled due to COVID-19?
If you are in the EU and your flight is canceled because of COVID-19, contact the airlines. Check for a rebooking or getting a refund. If you are traveling on an organized tour, you should travel to your travel agency. For help in case of emergencies abroad, you should contact your travel insurance provider too.
Are there ways across land borders to leave the EU?
If you have a means of transportation out of an EU nation, you can go if you are leaving the Schengen zone altogether. There are certain possibilities to consider though:
- A neighboring Schengen country may not let a non-EU national to enter its territory
- Even after exiting a highly infected Schengen country, you may reach a country that won’t accept you for that reason
Even after you arrive in your home country, you must self-quarantine for not less than 2 weeks. This is irrespective of whether you are having symptoms of COVID-19 or not.
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