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This article has only one goal: to create an official ranking of the best and worst Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads.
If you want to live and work in Europe for an extended period of time, you’re going to spend a few months in the Non-Schengen countries.
Non-EU citizens – that’s me, and probably you if you’re reading this – can only stay in the Schengen Zone in Europe for 90 days of every 180 day period.
Even though we’d love to, this means that we can’t go to Germany for 90 days, and then just hop to Italy for another 90 days, etc. etc. – our time starts counting for the entire Schengen Zone the second we set foot in one country and doesn’t reset when we move to another.
So, which countries are in the Schengen Zone, and more importantly, what are the best Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads to live in while we wait out our time before we can go back in again?
This digital nomad guide to Non-Schengen countries in Europe will help you figure it all out. It covers:
- What countries are in the Schengen Zone?
- How long can I stay in the Schengen Zone?
- Schengen Zone calculator
- List of Non-Schengen Countries
- Non-Schengen countries ranked by visa lengths
- Non-Schengen countries ranked by cost of living
- Non-Schengen countries ranked by internet speeds
- Non-Schengen countries ranked by safety
- Best Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads (official ranking)
- And much more!
And don’t worry, this isn’t some feel-good article – there are definite winners and losers at the end 🙂
Are you ready to dive in?
Keep reading to plan the perfect – and legal – long-term stay in Europe with this Non-Schengen visa guide.
London, United Kingdom
What countries are in the Schengen Zone?
The Schengen Zone and the EU as a whole have a lot of overlap, but it’s not exact. For example, the UK is in the EU (for now at least), but not in the Schengen zone.
In total, there are 26 countries in the Schengen Zone. They are:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Moving between these countries will not reset your visa and it’s important to remember when planning a trip to any country in the Schengen Zone that you can only stay 90 days out of the past 180 days in all of them.
How long can I stay in the Schengen Zone?
Bear with me, because I know I keep repeating myself.
But I wanted to create a section for this common question because the Schengen Zone has rolling visas.
Your Schengen time is always based on the past 180 days, not based on calendar years.
But lots of people smarter than me have built Schengen Calculators to help you input your exact travel plans and make sure you’re not overstaying.
Schengen Zone Visa Calculator
When I said a lot of people have built Schengen calculators, I meant it.
There are a ton online but I personally think this super simple Schengen calculator made by the exceedingly handsome web developer Adam Bard is the most low-key and easiest to use.
All you have to do is input the day you entered the Schengen Zone, the day you left, and the length of your stay and it’ll either tell you ‘yep you’re good’ or ‘nope you’re about to become a fugitive from the law.’
List of Non-Schengen Countries
Don’t become a fugitive from the law.
Instead, pop outta the Schengen Zone and spend some time in these pretty and frankly underrated surrounding Non-Schengen countries!
20 Non-Schengen Countries are feasible for digital nomads. They are:
Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
Vatican City, San Morino, Monaco, and Andorra are also Non-Schengen countries but because they’re so tiny and surrounded by Schengen countries (Italy, Italy, France, and France/Spain respectively) it would be really difficult to travel or live in them long-term as a digital nomad after you run out of time in the Schengen Zone.
So from here on out, I’m going to ignore them.
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
Non-Schengen Countries Ranked by Visa Length
Non-Schengen countries are great for digital nomads because you can settle down a bit and stay in them for months at a time without moving.
You can also move between them and reset your visa in every country every time you cross a border, unlike traveling in the Schengen Zone.
If your main concern is stability, use this list of Non-Schengen countries ranked by visa length to plan your move. (You can also click on any country to read the official visa info.)
Non-Schengen Countries With One-Year Visas
These two Non-Schengen countries have the longest visas for digital nomads looking for long-term stays in Europe.
Non-Schengen Countries with 180-Day Visas
If these two countries don’t appeal to you, you can stay in both Armenia and the United Kingdom for 180 days (six months) without a visa. It’s not quite as long as a one-year stay but still, pretty dang good.
Non-Schengen Countries with 90-Day Visas
The 90-day / three-month visa length is the most common tourist visa in Non-Schengen countries. The below countries all allow 90 days out of every 180 days.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina – 90 days out of every 180 days.
- Croatia – 90 days out of every 180 days.
- Bulgaria – 90 days out of every 180 days
- Kosovo for 90 days out of every 180 days.
- Macedonia – 90 days out of every 180 days.
- Moldova – 90 days out of 180 days.
- Romania – 90 days out of every 180 days.
- Ukraine – 90 days out of every 180 days.
However, it’s unclear if these reset every 180 days or every year (or if, like in some countries around the world, you can simply cross the border and then immediately return for another 90-day stay). My guess for these four countries, based on the lack of clarification that the others above had, is that they reset every year.
Turkey also has a 90-day visa but a somewhat annoying online e-visa application process and $20 fee. You can get them on arrival but purchasing them online will let you skip the lines at the airport and get through immigration faster.
Finally, you can also technically stay in Russia for up to 90 days of every 180 days but the visa process is so complicated and expensive that I don’t recommend it.
Non-Schengen Countries with 30-Day Visas
To complicate matters further, you need to acquire an Azerbaijan visa before you arrive and the Belarus visa is only valid if you arrive and exit from the Minsk International Airport.
Neither country has a ton going for them anyway, but these restrictive visa lengths might just be the nail in the coffin.
Peles Castle in Romania
Non-Schengen Countries Ranked by Cost of Living
Ireland is the most expensive Non-Schengen country to live and travel in, based on the Cost of Living ranking by Numbeo.
Predictably, the United Kingdom follows Ireland as the Non-Schengen country with the second-highest cost of living.
After that, in order from most expensive to least expensive, they are as follows:
- United Kingdom
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
If you want to save money, Kosovo, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Macedonia are the top Non-Schengen countries for digial nomads because your money will go further.
I spent three months in Ukraine in 2019 and have to say I was pleasantly shocked by how low the cost of living was but also by how beautiful and vibrant the country was as a whole.
(Check out the complete Ukraine Series for more info on living and working in the country.)
Coastline in Albania
Non-Schengen Countries Ranked by Internet Speeds
I also had the pleasure of living and working in Romania in 2018 and the internet situation was bonkers. The country has the 4th fastest internet in the world!
If your job requires fast internet for video uploads or lots of Skype calls and webinars, the internet speed in a country is going to be one of your top concerns when deciding where to move next.
For us, it always is, so I understand the frustration of finding an awesome place… and then having to nix it because you know working day-to-day is going to be impossible.
This list of Non-Schengen countries ranked by internet speeds will help you avoid that. For this round, I’m using the Speedtest ranking with data from August 2019.
The Non-Schengen countries ranked from fastest to slowest internet speeds (some of these may surprise you) are as follows:
- United Kingdom
- Russia (But keep in mind their internet is heavily censored)
- Bulgaria (probably, see below)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Turkey (Also heavily censored. When I lived here I couldn’t even access Wikipedia)
For some reason, Bulgaria is the only one not on the list, but I spent seven weeks in Sofia (read the Bulgaria Series to learn more about it) and the internet was perfectly fine. So just based on personal experience in the three countries I’d probably rank it somewhere around Ukraine and Serbia.
If internet speeds are important to you, the best Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads in this round are Romania, Ireland, and the UK and then – somehow, shockingly – Moldova and Belarus!
Non-Schengen Countries Ranked by Safety
I kind of believe that most countries – especially in Europe – are pretty safe as long as you travel smart and don’t get involved in nefarious activities. But I also totally get it if you want to make sure you’re traveling in safe countries, especially if you’re a female traveling alone.
In that case, this list of Non-Schengen countries ranked by safety will help you out. To create it, I’m using the data and travel advisories from the US State Department.
Level One: Exercise Normal Precautions is the safest rating while Level 4: Do Not Travel is, obviously, the most dangerous.
The Non-Schengen countries are split pretty evenly with about half rated as Level One: Exercise Normal Precautions and half rated as Level Two: Exercise Increased Caution.
The safest Non-Schengen Countries are:
Also pretty safe Non-Schengen countries but not quite as safe as the others:
- Azerbaijan – Level Two: Exercise increased caution due to the risk of terrorism.
- Bosnia & Herzegovina – Level Two: Exercise increased caution due to terrorism and land mines.
- Kosovo – Level Two: Exercise increased caution due to terrorism.
- Russia – Level Two: Exercise increased caution due to terrorism, harassment, and the arbitrary enforcement of local laws.
- Serbia – Level Two: Exercise increased caution due to crime.
- Turkey – Level Two: Exercise increased caution due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions.
- Ukraine – Level Two: Exercise increased caution due to crime, civil unrest, and elections.
- United Kingdom – Level Two: Exercise increased caution due to terrorism.
It’s important to remember that these warnings take the whole country into account and most of the main tourist places / biggest cities are usually safer than outlying areas.
I lived in Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine in recent years and felt totally safe and at ease during my stay in each one.
So, What are the best Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads?
Let’s do this scientifically.
Based on the four rankings above, we can calculate the ultimate best Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads that have long visas, a low cost of living, fast internet, and are safe for visitors.
I’m going to do this with a points system.
For example, for safety, the countries with a Level One ranking get two points while the countries with a Level Two ranking get one point.
For the cost of living, the cheapest four countries get five points each and the most expensive four countries get one point each. For internet speeds, the fastest countries get five points each and the slowest get one point each as well. The countries in between get four, three, and two points respectively.
And finally, for visa length, countries with a one-year visa get four points while the countries with 30-day visas get only one point.
After adding this all up, the countries with the highest rankings are the best Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads!
Ranked from worst to best, the officially ultimate best Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads based on internet speeds, cost of living, visa length, and safety are:
- Cyprus – 7 points
- Turkey – 7 points
- Azerbaijan – 8 points
- Bosnia and Herzegovina – 8 points
- Croatia – 8 points
- Bulgaria – 9 points
- Montenegro – 9 points
- Albania – 10 points
- Armenia – 10 points
- Ireland – 10 points
- Macedonia – 10 points
- Serbia – 10 points
- Russia – 10 points
- United Kingdom – 10 points
- Belarus – 11 points
- Kosovo – 11 points
- Moldova – 12 points
- Romania – 12 points
- Ukraine – 12 points (A personal favorite of mine, Lviv is my second favorite place in the world after Mexico City)
- Georgia – 12 points
It’s official: Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and Georgia are the best Non-Schengen countries for digital nomads.
Of course, this Non-Schengen country ranking measures all four categories equally, and the best country for you may be a bit different based on what’s most important to you.
It also doesn’t take into account some real-world stuff like Moldovans being named the most unhappy people in the world and Russia getting a pretty good ranking because they have fast internet (but it’s censored) and a decently long visa stay (that’s expensive and complicated to get).
But hey, I tried my best and this list is, at the very least, a great place to start planning your long-term trip in Europe!
I hope it helps and whether you agree, disagree, or have suggestions to improve the rankings, let me know in the comments below!
Ready to go? Explore furnished apartments on Airbnb in Romania, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine to begin planning your trip!
This article is part of the Digital Nomad Series. Read the rest below:
Then, explore the complete Long Term Travel series for more insider tips on making the transition to a location independent lifestyle.
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