Europe is the second smallest continent but is made up of over 51 independent countries. Under normal circumstances, traveling through different European countries would mean having to go through visa applications and passport control multiple times.

The Schengen Zone, therefore, makes this international border crossing process easier by treating the Schengen area somewhat like a single country. As long as you stay in the Schengen zone, you can generally cross borders without going through passport control checkpoints again.

Fun Fact: By having a Schengen visa, you do not need to apply for visas to 26 Schengen area countries separately, hence saving time, money, and paperwork headache.

Schengen Countries

There are 26 countries that are officially part of the Schengen Area. These include:

Exceptions and Easy Visa

Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia are EU member states that are not yet formally participating in the Schengen scheme. They maintain separate passport control checks at border crossings with Schengen states. However, holders of a valid Schengen visa may be able to enter those states without applying for a separate visa.

Cyprus likewise is a member of the European Union but not inside the Schengen zone, however, as it does not have land borders with Schengen zone members, this is only relevant for air and water travel.

The microstates Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City are not part of the Schengen Area and have differing formal relationships with it, but they all have open borders with neighboring Schengen countries and can be legally entered with a Schengen visa.

Andorra has no formal agreement with the Schengen Area and maintains permanent border controls, but does not issue its own visas. Instead, Andorra accepts a Schengen visa. Going back from Andorra might need a multi-entry visa, since entering and leaving Andorra could be the same as leaving and re-entering the Schengen Area. In practice, passport control at the Andorran border is relaxed and unlikely to cause problems for most travelers.

Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen Area and maintains permanent border controls, and entering Gibraltar from the Schengen area will invalidate a single-entry Schengen visa. In practice, visitors with single-entry Schengen visas who enter and leave through that border crossing are usually re-admitted to Spain without any problems. NOTE: This arrangement does not apply if entering or leaving Gibraltar by air, and you must have a multiple entry Schengen visa should you wish to fly into Gibraltar and re-enter the Schengen area.

Note: A Schengen visa might not be valid to visit overseas territories of a particular Schengen country (e.g. French overseas territories, Aruba, or Greenland).

EU & Schengen Region

The Schengen Area is not the same as the European Union (EU). Not all EU countries are part of the Schengen zone and not all Schengen countries are part of the EU.

The Schengen Zone only covers immigration controls, whilst the EU is effectively a customs union. Therefore, you do not need to pass through customs when traveling between a Schengen and a non-Schengen EU country, but you will need to pass through immigration controls (e.g. United Kingdom to Germany or vice versa).

The converse is true for travel between EU and non-EU Schengen countries: you must pass through customs, at least if you have goods to declare, but not immigration (e.g. Switzerland to France or vice versa).

A Schengen visa and visa-free travel to the Schengen area is valid for only short stays (those that are 90 days or less within a 180-day period – for all the area).

Visa Free Entry to the Schengen Area

The nationals of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area:

  • Albania
  • Andorra
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Brazil
  • Brunei
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominica
  • El Salvador
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Moldova
  • Monaco
  • Montenegro
  • New Zealand
  • Nicaragua
  • North Macedonia
  • Palau
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Samoa
  • San Marino
  • Serbia
  • Seychelles
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Timor-Leste
  • Tonga
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United States
  • Uruguay
  • Vanuatu
  • Vatican City
  • Venezuela
  • Persons holding Hong Kong SAR passports
  • Persons holding Macau SAR passports
  • All British nationals (including those who are not European Union citizens)

Note: Citizens of the European Economic Area, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland only need a valid national identity card or passport. They do not need a visa for the Schengen Area and are generally allowed to stay for as long as they want.

Entering the Schengen Area

Unlike in most other countries, incoming passengers are normally not required to fill-in any additional paperwork to present to passport control officials.

Just like with other visas, a Schengen visa does not automatically entitle you to enter the Schengen area. As such, you must still demonstrate to passport control officers that you are genuinely entitled to the visa you were issued. Even if you possess a valid visa, actual entry may still be denied/refused if you are unable to satisfy the border officer’s questions and/or requests to see documents.

At most checkpoints, two sets of lanes are provided: one for EEA/Swiss nationals and another for all other passport holders. In some countries, the main airports may also provide a premium lane for eligible passengers (usually those who travel in first and business class); your airline will hand you a voucher which you will show to the staff upon arrival (ask your airline for more information).

Non-EEA travelers need to provide their biometric fingerprints at the point of entry.

When traveling through a Schengen airport, flights are separated into Schengen and non-Schengen flights, similar to domestic and international flights elsewhere.

This means if your flight originates from a non-Schengen country but are connecting via a Schengen airport to another Schengen country (or vice-versa), you must clear passport control at the first (or last) airport you travel through within the Schengen area. When a connection is inevitable, consider the connection times and the potential for queues when booking your flights.

Caution: If you are a non-EU/EFTA national (even if you are visa-exempt), make sure that your passport is clearly stamped both when you enter and leave the Schengen Area with all the pertinent dates visible. Without an entry stamp, you may be treated as an overstayer when you try to leave the Schengen Area. Likewise, without an exit stamp, you may be refused entry the next time you seek to enter the Schengen Area as you may be deemed to have overstayed on your previous visit too.

For those who need another visa in the future, the application may be refused or the processing of your application may experience further prolonged processing.

If you cannot obtain a passport stamp or the ink is not too visible, make sure that you retain documents such as boarding passes, stamps of passports from other countries, transport tickets, financial documents, attendance records at work/school, which may help to convince border inspection staff that you have stayed in the Schengen Area legally.

Do not assume that border officers at the Schengen area states have access to the database of other member states (they generally don’t). Make sure to get a stamp put into your passport.

The EU does not have an all-encompassing immigration policy, and therefore immigration controls are in principle specific to each country. Many of its members have however adopted the Schengen Agreement, which makes travel very easy between these.

Also, some non-EU countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland) belong to the Schengen area, while three European micro-states – Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City – do not have any immigration controls with the Schengen countries.

Note: There are usually no border controls between countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement. Members of Schengen are still permitted to introduce border checks temporarily for security reasons, such as in connection with major events, and there may be random checks of travel documents, not only at the border.

A visa granted for any Schengen Agreement signatory country is valid in all other countries that signed the treaty. People who need a visa should get a visa from their “primary destination” country. See Travelling around the Schengen Area for details

Travel between a Schengen Agreement country and any non-Schengen country will mostly result in the normal border checks.

The United Kingdom and Ireland opted out and run a separate border control scheme and require passport controls of travelers arriving from other EU countries, while Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus have not adopted Schengen yet, despite joining the EU.

Airport Transiting

Citizens of 12 countries need a transit visa even for airside transits:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Sri Lanka
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Pakistan
  • DRC Congo
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Nigeria
  • Somalia

Everyone else is allowed to change planes at an airport in the Schengen area without obtaining a visa. However, if the airport you are transferring to is in the Schengen area as well or you intend to leave the “airside” area of the transit airport, this means you’re entering the Schengen area and the rules above apply.

Warning: An Indian citizen traveling from Mumbai to New York with stops in Paris and Amsterdam would need a Schengen visa because the Paris-Amsterdam flight cannot be accessed without entering the Schengen area. If that makes sense.

Requirements for Schengen visa

In general, if your nationality needs a Schengen visa for either business, tourism or family visits, you usually will need to procure the following documents (specific requirements vary slightly per embassy and jurisdiction so check with the embassy where you’re applying at for the specific and additional requirements):

Basic requirements

Completed application form (the form can be downloaded from the website of the embassy concerned) and some member states may also request you to fill-out an additional form. Parents will need to sign the application form of minors whether they will accompany them or not.

  • Passport with at least two blank pages, which must be valid for at least three months from the day you return
  • Passport-sized ID photograph (please check the website of the embassy you are applying to determine how the photo should look like)
  • Copies of previous Schengen visas (if previously issued)
  • Application fee

If the embassy/consulate outsources the administrative aspects of the application to a third party (e.g., to VFS), then a fee may be charged by these third parties in addition to the above fees.

For those applying in a country where they are not a citizen of but have legal residence: Residence permit which must be valid for at least three months from the day you return.

Minors who are travelling alone (or with an adult who is not a family member) and in some cases with only one parent may need to secure a permit to travel form or its local equivalent from local authorities in their home or resident country signed by the parents or legal guardian who is not accompanying the minor. This requirement depends on the local laws.

Proof of socio-economic ties and finances

Employment certificate and recent payslips (if employed), or enrolment certificate/letter from institution (if a student). As much as possible, they should state the period in which you are allowed to go on holiday or business trip. In some cases, if you are unemployed or a dependant on someone else financially, you will have to procure an affidavit of support and/or a declaration form.

Bank statements covering the last 3 months prior to the application. The specific amount required to be in the balance depends on the member state whose embassy you are applying at (typically €40-60 per day per applicant on your party plus enough to cover unpaid ticket costs, accommodations, pre-booked tours). In case you do not have a bank account, traveler’s cheques might be accepted by some embassies.

If available or applicable, any other evidence that shows your strong motivation to return to your country of citizenship or legal residence at the end of your trip, e.g. property titles, tax returns, share certificates.

Proof of travel arrangements

  • Confirmed transport arrangements
  • Confirmation of accommodation arrangements. These have to establish that the country whose embassy you’re applying at is your main destination
  • For tourists staying at a hotel/hostel, your confirmed bookings
  • If you intend to stay with friends/relatives, they may need to course their invitation through local authorities, fill-in official paperwork and post it to you
  • Official letter/invitation from organizers/sponsors, if you are on a business trip or conference
  • Travel insurance that covers at least the entire Schengen Zone for the duration of your trip and at least €30,000 in emergency treatment and medical repatriation

Note: Do not submit original copies of the above-mentioned documents to the application center as they may not be returned to you (except the passport of course).

Tip: The application form may have an option of whether you want a single or multiple entry visa. However, the latter is rarely granted for first-time visitors and not all countries grant it at all unless you can demonstrate that in between two Schengen states, you intend to visit a non-Schengen country.

Setting an appointment

In applying for a Schengen visa, there is no such thing as applying at the embassy/consulate/visa application center of your choice. The embassy/consulate/application center at which you must apply will depend on where you plan to actually go, how long you plan to spend in each of the states, and what the main purpose of your trip is.

If you only intend to visit one country, then you must go to the designated application center for that particular country. Don’t visit the visa application center for Spain if you will only visit Austria; go to the visa application center servicing Austria.
If you intend to visit more than one country, then you must identify the country which is your main destination.

The main destination is defined as the destination where you will spend the longest time in if the purpose of your trip is the same for each of the countries you will visit, or where the main purpose of your trip will take place if you have more than one purpose. Your main purpose will also depend on the visa you are ultimately applying for.

For example, if your itinerary says you will spend 2 days in Germany, 4 days in Sweden, 3 days in Poland and 1 day in Belgium all for a holiday, you need to apply for a visa at the Swedish embassy/consulate.

If you will spend 5 days in France for a holiday but you will do this after attending a 3-day conference in Italy, you must go to the Italian embassy.

If there is no clear main destination and the purpose of your trip is the same everywhere, that is you will spend almost exactly the same amount of time in each member state then you should lodge your application at the application center of the member state where you intend to first arrive at.

For example, you will enter through France and spend 3 days there, then 3 days each in Denmark and finally Switzerland all for a holiday; you must go to the French consulate/embassy for the visa.

Generally speaking, you can only apply at the application center that has jurisdiction over the country (and possibly city) where you live. If you are a temporary visitor in a third country, you cannot apply for a Schengen visa there. You will need to present proof of residence in a third country in order to apply for a visa there.

Check the relevant embassy’s website for more details on how to set an appointment, where you need to go, and what else you need to bring. In rare cases, if a member state has no mission in your home country, the embassy you need to visit is in another country, serving also your area.

The relevant embassy may also be that of the other Schengen country, accepting and possibly processing applications on behalf of the Schengen country to which you intend to lodge your application.

Get all your paperwork in order as early as possible, especially if it takes days to process or needs to be posted to you. Personal appearance is generally required and is usually by appointment only; walk-ins are only allowed in a few cases. Appointment slots run out quickly so book an appointment early. The application may be filed up to three months in advance of your scheduled trip.

On the appointment itself

In general, personal appearance at the application center is required; that is, an agent cannot lodge the application on your behalf. Make sure you be at the application center at least 15 minutes before your appointment and that your documents are in order.

The staff at the window will inspect your documents, ask routine questions about your trip, collect the application fee, and normally take biometric fingerprints and digital photographs. If your documents are insufficient or out of order, or you are requested to submit more, then you will usually need to make a new appointment. Your application will not be processed until this is satisfied.

Processing time depends on a variety of factors. They include the applicant’s nationality (some nationalities are subject to consultation with other member states), the purpose of visit, time of the year, outstanding documentation, referral of the application to different government departments, and staffing levels at the embassy. Before the appointment is over, the application center will advise you on when and how you can claim your passport (either by returning personally or by post).

After applying

If you receive a Schengen visa, make sure you check to see the information is correct. In particular, check that the visa says something to the effect of “valid for the Schengen States” (usually written in the language used by the embassy that issued the visa; for example, États Schengen). The validity dates must match your original travel dates and not expire earlier. Contact the application center immediately if you notice any discrepancies (even if you applied for a multiple-entry visa, the consul may still grant a single entry visa).

If your application is unsuccessful, you’ll normally be given a notice explaining the reasons for such a decision. The process and grounds for appeal vary between each embassy/consulate but you are strongly advised to refer to the notice and address the issues outlined before returning to the embassy.

Unless the refusal notice states that you are ineligible to apply for a certain amount of time, you can lodge a new application at any time (with a corresponding fee), but make sure you address the issues that caused your previous application to fail.

Keep copies of the documents you used in your application and those that will establish your purpose of visit, and be sure to bring them with you as border officers may ask to see them upon your arrival.

If you have been issued a Schengen visa but later you have been notified that the main purpose for your visit no longer exists (e.g. the conference you are scheduled to attend has been canceled) yet you still want to pursue your trip to the other countries, then you may need to inform the embassy that issued you the visa about the change in circumstance and apply for a new visa with the pertinent embassy.

Length of Stay & Number of Entries

Pay particular attention to the validity dates and length of stay: make sure to leave before they expire (whichever comes earlier/first).

The validity dates simply provide the window in which you can travel to the Schengen area. If you decide to postpone and shorten your trip, however, the original expiry date will still stand and you must still exit on or before this date even if the allowed number of days stated in your visa won’t be totally used up by this date.

The maximum 90 days in 180 is counted in a moving window of 180 days. If you stayed the 90 days at the end of your previous 180 days, you are not allowed to re-enter before 90 days have elapsed. If your previous stay was shorter you are allowed to re-enter immediately but have to leave before the recent days of your last stay and the days of your current stay add up to 90 (in the past 180 days).

If you were given a multiple-entry visa, the number of days indicated on the visa will refer to the total amount of time you can spend in the Schengen area, regardless of the number of entries you plan to make or are allowed to make, in a six-month period or the period stated in the visa – whichever is shorter. Hence, if you are given a multiple-entry visa valid for three months but the length stays only allows 10 days, the 10 days won’t be reset by you leaving the Schengen zone and returning later.

In this case, if you stayed for 4 days on your initial visit but wish to come back while the visa is still valid, you can only return for a maximum of 6 days on that visa. Arrival and departure dates are included in the number of days you have stayed in the Schengen zone, regardless of actual arrival and departure time, so plan accordingly to maximize time.

Likewise, if you were only given a single entry visa for 30 days but have decided to cut your trip short by leaving only 20 days into your trip, you can no longer use that same visa any more and the remaining days you have left on that visa are forfeited (though this will not be taken against you when you apply for another visa in the future since you did not overstay).

If you wish to visit non-Schengen states (e.g. UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria) in between two Schengen states, make it clear in your application that you need to do so (though you may also wish to visit such non-Schengen states only before entry or after visiting the Schengen zone).

If you have been issued a multiple-entry C visa with a long validity period (i.e. more than 6 months) or several single-entry visas, please be aware that you are only allowed a combined maximum stay of 90 days within a 180-day period in the Schengen area.

Some countries within the Schengen area, such as Spain and Portugal, offer an extension to the Schengen visa (or to the right to stay), valid for that country only. This allows staying longer than the 90 days period in the Schengen area without getting a long term visa. The extension requires a valid reason and the usual paperwork on sufficient funds etc.

You might have to leave without entering any other Schengen country, as they probably will count your extended stay as part of the 90 allowed days.

Getting around the Schengen zone

Once you are allowed into the Schengen zone, you can generally travel to any member state without having to go through formal passport control procedures again.

When using a plane to travel between two airports within the Schengen area, it will be as if you are taking a domestic flight. Some countries like France, Italy and the Netherlands require non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals to declare their presence to relevant local authorities even if they arrived from another Schengen member state. This may be taken care of by the accommodation you are staying at upon check-in, but otherwise, you will have to visit the relevant authorities yourselves. Consult the Wikivoyage pages of the individual countries as well as the websites of their respective immigration authorities for more information.

The Schengen agreement also has provisions for allowing individual member states to temporarily reinstate border controls in certain circumstances. For instance, as a result of a 2015-2016 influx of refugees, train passengers in Denmark headed for Sweden need to submit to a brief passport check on the train upon arrival at the first station in Sweden.

In addition, expect random passport checks when crossing borders at any time, as well as when boarding a plane at the airport. Hence, even if there are no border (immigration) controls between Schengen states, you are strongly advised to carry your passport or some other form of ID with you when crossing borders between Schengen states.

Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, while in the Schengen area, are not in the European Union and, accordingly, customs controls are in effect for all arriving travelers, regardless of point of origin. On some borders the controls are lax and you may have to make sure you find a customs official to declare goods needing customs clearance.

Åland, while a member of the EU and Schengen as part of Finland, is not a member of the tax union and you should thus declare some imports, even when there are no customs where you happen to pass the border. Similar considerations apply to the Channel Islands and some other areas.

When crossing the border by train, customs officers may enter the train; and when crossing by car, customs officers may stop your vehicle and inspect it. Customs controls can happen far from the border. Normally, if transiting through an airport in one of these four countries, you may not be required to clear customs in the transiting airport.

Safety Tips

Dialing 1-1-2 from any phone will connect you to all emergency services wherever you are in the EU.

In some countries, your call will be forwarded to a more specific number depending on the emergency, in others all or most emergencies are centrally handled.

Note: The 1-1-2 always has also English speaking staff.

Money & Currency

When traveling between EU countries with €10,000 or more in physical assets (euros, other currencies, precious metal, etc.), you should check with authorities in each country whether special measures are needed. Maintaining your cash in an EU bank account effectively frees you from any such controls since the free movement of capital is maintained across the EU.

You must declare at customs when leaving the EU with €10,000 or more in euros or the equivalent in other currencies.

July 18, 2019 5:07 pm Published by

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