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What Is The Schengen Agreement - Schengen Areas and the Schengen Visa

8 Sept 2022

17 min read

The Schengen Area is one of the most visited areas in the world. It consists of 26 incredible countries. However, when looking at Europe and its many nations, the term Schengen can get confusing sometimes. There are non-EU and EU countries included in the Schengen Area, and then there is the European Union with its own laws and regulations. So how does the Schengen Area work exactly?

In this in-depth guide we'll explore the Schengen States, the Schengen Agreement, European Unions also known as Brexit, the Schengen Visa and this will answer the age old question of what is Schengen?

schengen map and passport

What Is The Schengen Agreement?

The Schengen Agreement concerns the removal of internal border controls between countries that have agreed to comply with the Schengen acquis (or body of law). It also provides for cooperation in police and judicial matters and common rules for checks at external borders essentially combatting cross-border crime . Today the Schengen Area consists of 26 countries, where 22 are EU members and 4 are non-EU members.

In short, the Schengen Agreement allows citizens of countries that form part of the Schengen States, to move freely between Schengen countries without the need to obtain any type of travel authorization. This makes it possible for citizens that are part of a Schengen Country to travel, work and live in any other Schengen Country.


What Is The Schengen Area?

schengen_map.jpg

What Countries Form Part Of The Schengen Area?

There are 26 countries that form part of the Schengen Area. These countries cover nearly the entire mainland of Europe.

The 26 are the following: 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.

Citizens of these nations don't need to obtain any type of visa to travel, live, work and study within the Schengen Zone. These nations enjoy free movement within the Schengen Area.

What Countries Do Not Form Part Of The Schengen Area?

The following countries don't form part of the Schengen Area. If you wish to travel to the Schengen Zone from these countries, you'll need to apply for a visa.

Non-Schengen European Union Countries

  • Bulgaria
  • Romania
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom

Non-Schengen Countries

  • Albania
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Macedonia
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • Serbia
  • Ukraine

Can I Enter Any Schengen Country With A Schengen Visa?

Yes. A Schengen Visa will grant you entry to any one of the Schengen member states. With a Schengen Visa, you'll be able to enjoy the same freedom of movement within the Schengen Area as that of a Schengen citizen.

When applying for a Schengen Visa, you'll need to apply at the Embassy of the country where you will be staying the longest. If you plan to visit multiple countries, you need to apply at the embassy of the country you'll be entering first. Also, you must meet all the Schengen Visa requirements alongside submitting proof of the reason for your trip.

Note that a Schengen Visa is only issued for non-essential purposes like tourism and short business trips. With your Schengen Visa, you're allowed to stay in the Schengen Area for a duration of 90 days in a 6 month period. If you're planning a long stay, you'll need to apply for another type of visa. The type of visa you would apply for depends on the country you plan to visit.

Remember that not all EU countries form part of the Schengen Area, meaning you won't be able to visit all EU countries with your Schengen Visa.

However, there are some countries you can enter by presenting your Schengen Visa even though these countries don't form part of the Schengen Area. These countries include:

  • San Marino
  • Monaco
  • Vatican City

Even though San Marino, Monaco, and the Vatican City aren't part of the Schengen Area, you can enter these countries with your Schengen Visa. Due to their location and political agreements, these countries have opened their borders with the Schengen Area.

Schengen road sign

Which Countries Will Be Joining The Schengen Area In The Future?

There are a few other countries that plan to join the Schengen Area in the future. The following countries are strong candidates to join the Schengen Area:

Bulgaria

Bulgaria officially joined the European Union in 2007 and in 2011 the European Parliament approved its request to join the Schengen Area. However, since then there have been many discussions about whether or not Bulgaria meets the requirements to join the Schengen Zone.

Currently, Bulgaria is only partially covered by Schengen laws. Passport checks are still in place at Bulgaria's borders, and the European Council has yet to determine whether Bulgaria should completely join the Schengen Area.

Romania

According to Romania's Prime Minister Florin Cîțu, Romania is very close to joining the Schengen Area. Prime Minister Florin Cîțu announced that Romania could be joining the Schengen Area as early as this year, provided that their Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report is favourable.

The CVM is set up for Romania and Bulgaria as a transitional measure to help assist the countries remedy certain shortcomings. These shortcomings include corruption, organized crime, and progress in regards to fields of judicial reform.

Nevertheless, there is still no official confirmation that Romania will be joining the Schengen Area this year. But, in the light of recent events, it is highly possible that Romania will be joining in the near future.

Croatia

According to the government of Croatia, the country has met 281 recommendations established by the EU to join the Schengen Area. Out of the 281 recommendations, 145 of them involved external border control. Commissioner Johansson has confirmed that Croatia is officially ready to join the Schengen Area. It is suggested that Croatia will be joining the Schengen Area before the end of 2024.

Cyprus

Even though Cyprus has not been officially accepted to join the Schengen Area, it has started the process to be eligible to join in the future. In September 2019, Cyprus's Foreign Minister, Nikos Christodoulides, stated that the country had begun the process of applying for Schengen membership.

Although Cyprus has started the process of joining the Schengen member countries, there is no clear date on when this will actually happen. The application process is still ongoing and Cyprus has met the first requirements. It is expected that Cyprus will potentially join the Schengen Area in the future.


What Is The Difference Between The Schengen Area And The European Union?

In short, the European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 27 member states, where the Schengen Area allows freedom of movement for people between Schengen member states.

Over the years, the EU has developed laws and agreements that allow member states to enjoy many political and economic benefits, such as a singular internal market between member states. The most popular benefit, being the free movement of people, goods, services, and money between EU member states.

The Schengen Area is a zone that consists of 26 countries. These countries, EU and non-EU, share a common goal of the freedom of movement of their citizens between the Schengen Countries. Essentially you can think of the Schengen Area as one country. The Schengen Agreement has made it possible for citizens from different Schengen member states to travel between Schengen countries as if they are traveling from one city to another.


What Do I Need To Know About Brexit And The Schengen Zone?

It is not a secret that the UK is not part of the Schengen Zone. But since 31 January of 2020, the UK has also not been part of the European Union. So what does this mean for UK travelers traveling to the Schengen Zone and Schengen citizens traveling to the UK?

Brexit and Schengen flag

What is Brexit?

The term "Brexit" refers to the United Kingdom's (UK) departure or withdrawal from the European Union making it a non-EU State. The term "Brexit" is a combination of "Britain" and "exit."

The United Kingdom conducted a referendum on its membership in the European Union on June 23, 2016. Voters were faced with this question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?". In the end, there were 51.89% of voters who voted to leave the EU. Since then, the UK left the EU on the 31st of January 2020.

On 24 December 2020, negotiations between the UK and EU finally came to an end. Both the EU and UK have agreed to set out the terms in 3 agreements. These agreements are as follow:

As of 1 January 2021, these agreements have taken effect.

Check out this easy-to-follow infographic if you are still uncertain about the Brexit timeline and everything that happened.

If you are wondering how this new agreement will affect travel between the UK and the EU, you can read through Article 492 "Visa for short-term visits" of Title 2 in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

What Countries Form Part Of The UK?

The UK stands for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a sovereign state that is made up of the following 4 countries:

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland

Do UK Citizens Need To Apply For A Schengen Visa To Visit The Schengen Area?

UK citizens who plan to travel to the Schengen Zone for non-essential purposes will be happy to know that they are covered by a Schengen Visa waiver. Meaning, UK citizens don't need to apply for a Schengen Visa if they plan a short trip to one of the Schengen Area countries.

British citizens only enjoy visa-free travel for the following purposes:

  • travel for tourism purposes
  • travel for short business activities, such as attending meetings

How Long Can UK Citizens Stay In The Schengen Area?

The Schengen Visa waiver only allows British citizens to enjoy a stay for a duration of 90 days per 180 days. You'll need to apply for a specific visa or permit if:

  • you're staying for longer than 90 days
  • you're studying, and your studies exceed 90 days
  • you're traveling for business
  • you'll be carrying out work-related activities that are not covered by the visa waiver

Note that the 90-day rule applies to the Schengen Area as a group. Meaning, no matter what Schengen country you visit, the duration of your stay counts towards the 90-day rule. Whereas countries outside the Schengen Area have their own 90-day rule. For example, you can visit Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania for 90 days each. Totalling 360 days of travel. Whereas in the Schengen Area, you may only visit its countries for a total of 90 days per 180 days.

What Are The Required Travel Documents For UK Citizens Traveling To The Schengen Area?

UK citizens traveling to an EU country, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, will need to have the following travel documents at hand:

  • A Valid Passport in a good condition and valid for at least 3 months from the day after you leave the last country you intend to visit.
  • Valid Travel Insurance/Valid Health Insurance: Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) will be valid. If you plan to travel to Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein, you'll need to purchase valid medical insurance that provides the same medical coverage as that of your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
  • A Return Ticket Or Travel Itinerary: You can use the Atlys flight itinerary and the hotel itinerary tools to get these documents.
  • Proof Of Sufficient Financial Means by presenting your bank statements and payslips. The amount depending on the country you visit.
  • Valid Driving Documents: If you plan to travel with your own vehicle, you’ll need valid vehicle insurance and a UK sticker. Also, some EU countries might require you to obtain an international driving permit (IDP).

The Schengen Visa

Schengen Visa.png

When traveling to the Schengen Area as a non-EU citizen, you'll most likely need to apply for a short-stay Schengen Visa.

Note that there are agreements that allow certain countries to enjoy visa-free travel. For example, citizens from the UK and the United States enjoy the benefit of visa-free travel. They aren't required to apply for a visa if their purposes are non-essential.

What Is A Schengen Visa?

A Schengen Visa is a travel authorization that allows its holder to travel within the Schengen Area for a duration of 90 days per 180 days. With a Schengen Visa, you can travel to any one of the Schengen member states, provided that you meet the minimum requirements. When applying for your Schengen Visa, you can either apply for a single-entry or multiple-entry visa. This will allow you to visit the Schengen Area more than once.

Note that each Schengen Country may have different requirements. Before applying for your Schengen Visa, we recommend you look at the country's requirements and ensure that you can meet them.

How To Get Your Schengen Visa Easily?

Applying for a Schengen Visa can be a tedious and time-consuming process. There can be a lot of uncertainty when applying for your visa, especially if you are unsure about the required documents and the visa application process. Nevertheless, there is an easy way you can apply for your Schengen Visa.

The easiest way to get your Schengen visa is through the Atlys app. Atlys eliminates any uncertainty you may have. Also, when using Atlys, you will save yourself a lot of time and headaches. Atlys is easy to use and has very helpful customer service. What is more, is you can apply for a Schengen Visa from the comfort of your own home when using Atlys.

Where Do I Need To Apply For My Schengen Visa?

Typically, you'll need to apply at the Embassy or Consulate of the country you plan to visit. For example: if you plan to travel to Spain for tourism, you'll need to apply for your Spanish Schengen Visa/Tourist Visa at your local Spanish Embassy or Consulate.

Another way to apply for your Schengen Visa is with Atlys. With Atlys you can apply for your Schengen Visa from anywhere.

For How Long Is My Schengen Visa Valid?

Your Schengen Visa will be valid for a duration of 90 days in a 6 month period. With your Schengen Visa, you are allowed to travel to any of the Schengen countries as long as the duration of your stay does not exceed 90 days.

Note: The Schengen Visa only allows you to travel for non-essential purposes. Meaning, you're not allowed to work, study or permanently live in the Schengen Area unless you have a visa or permit that allows such activities.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Schengen Visa?

Once you have submitted your Schengen Visa application, you can expect to receive feedback from the Embassy or Consulate you applied to within 15 calendar days. However, there are some cases where you'll need to wait longer for feedback. This can happen when there is a sudden demand in Schengen Visas for a country, there is political unrest in a country, or when new laws and regulations are being implemented in a country.

Schengen Visa

What Is The 90/180 Day Rule In Europe?

When applying for your Schengen Visa, you'll notice that you are only allowed to stay within a Schengen Country for a duration of 90 days within any 180 day period. This is known as the 90-day rule. We'll be explaining exactly how it works and how you can calculate the number of days you can spend in the Schengen Area.

How Does The 90 Day Rule Work?

The 90/180-day rule applies to all the 26 Schengen countries, not just 1 or 2 countries. Having this in mind, you must understand that as soon as you enter 1 of the Schengen countries, the counting of your 90-days starts. Also, as soon as you leave the Schengen Area, the counting of your 90-days stops.

For example:

1 You travel from the US to Spain for 5 days

2 From Spain, you travel to Greece for 10 days,

3 From Greece, you travel to Portugal for an additional 10 days,

4 From Portugal, you travel back to the US.

This means you will have spent a total of 25 days in the Schengen Area before returning back to your home country. Meaning, you still have 65 days you could use to visit the Schengen Area.

How To Calculate The 180 Days?

Here is where the 90/180-day rule might be a bit confusing to travelers. The 180 days are counted backward from the date of arrival and departure from the Schengen Area. Meaning, each time you enter or leave the Schengen Area, a new 180 day period will be calculated.

For example:

1 You travel from the US to Spain on the 1st of January,

2 You stay in Spain for 31 days,

3 On the 31st of January, you travel back to the US.

You have now spent 31 days of the 90 days in the Schengen Area.

4 In April you decide to travel from the US to Greece for 30 days,

5 After 30 days, you travel back to the US.

You have now spent a total of 61 days in the Schengen Area.

6 In the same year, September, you decide to travel from the US to Switzerland for 40 days,

7 Once you arrive in Switzerland, authorities will check if you have been in the Schengen Area in the past 180 days.

8 In the past 6 months/180 days, you have only been to 1 Schengen country for 30 days (in April, you went to Greece for 30 days).

9 You are allowed to enter Switzerland,

10 After your stay in Switzerland, you travel back to the US.

So essentially, you used your Schengen Visa to stay in the Schengen Area for a total of 101 days in one year. This is possible because the 180 days take effect when you leave or enter a new Schengen country.

Meaning, if you were to travel to the Schengen Area for 90 days consecutively, you won't be able to enter the Schengen Area again for another 180 days.

Schengen Attractions
Written By: Richard Nathan
Fact Checked By: Lamia Darwish

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Meaning Of Schengen?

The name "Schengen" originated from Schengen in Luxembourg, where the Schengen Agreement was signed by the initial 5 Schengen Countries. Schengen is an agreement that allows citizens from many European countries to travel between member states freely. In most cases, citizens from member states only need to present their passport or government-issued ID to travel between the different member states of the Schengen Area.

How Many Countries Are In The Schengen Area?

There are currently 26 countries in the Schengen Area. These countries include:

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.

What Countries Don't Need A Schengen Visa To Travel To The Schengen Area?

There are some countries that enjoy the benefit of visa-free travel to the Schengen Area. Meaning, citizens from the following countries don't need to apply for a Schengen Visa to travel to the Schengen Area:

Albania (only holders of biometric passport), Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia , Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina (only holders of biometric passport), Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Georgia, Grenada, Guatemala, Holy See (Vatican City State), Honduras, Hong Kong S.A.R (Only for holders of the "Hong Kong Special Administrative Region" ), Israel, Japan, Kiribati , Macao S.A.R (Only for holders of the“Região Administrativa Especial de Macau” passport), Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova (only holders of biometric passport), Monaco, Montenegro (only holders of biometric passport), Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Macedonia (only holders of biometric passport), Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Samoa, Serbia (only holders of biometric passport), Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan (only if your passport contains an identity card number), Timor Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu and Venezuela.

What Countries Form Part Of The Schengen Area But Are Not Part Of The European Union?

The following Schengen Countries are not part of the European Union (EU):

  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Lichtenstein
Is The UK part of the Schengen Area?

No, the UK does not form part of the Schengen Zone.

Does The UK Form Part Of The European Union (EU)?

No, not anymore. The UK is the first and only country that has officially left the EU. It is more popularly known as Brexit.

What Is The Schengen Area Security System?

Security is of course a great concern when it comes to travel within the Schengen Area. Technology plays a crucial role in the Schengen Area Security System. We’ll be briefly discussing the following systems so you can have an understanding about how security is being implemented in the Schengen Area:

Visa Information System (VIS)

The Visa Information System (VIS) is a central IT system that is linked through communication infrastructure to the national system. VIS is used to collect all information in regards to visa data, allowing the Schengen Countries to exchange their visa data effortlessly between each other.

The main purposes of VIS include:

  • Regulating and facilitating checks and the issuance of visas
  • Ensuring the safety of travelers
  • Helping with asylum applications
  • Enhancing security
  • Fighting abuse (this includes overstays, irregular migrants, and so on)

Schengen Information System (SIS)

The Schengen Information System is a large-scale information system that enables Schengen member states to support external border control and law enforcement through the cooperation between countries. It is the most widely used information sharing system for security and border management in Europe.

The SIS is put in place to make Europe safer. Authorities can maintain security in the absence of internal border inspections using SIS in three key areas of cooperation:

  • Border Control Cooperation
  • Law Enforcement Cooperation
  • Cooperation On Vehicle Registration

Each of these areas play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of the EU and Schengen Area. The SIS allows competent national authorities, such as police and border guards, to enter and consult alerts on people or objects.

European Dactyloscopy (EURODAC)

EURODAC is the European Union's first asylum fingerprint database. It was founded in 2003 and is essentially a central system that collects all fingerprint data recorded by national systems in Schengen member nations. The system is designed to collect and store the fingerprints of every individual who asks for asylum in the EU.

One of the system's major accomplishments is that it allows member countries to compare fingerprints associated with criminal investigations sake of preventing, detecting, and investigating severe crimes and terrorism.

In conclusion, EURODAC is used to help prevent future crime or detecting current treats within the EU.

To What Schengen Countries Can I Travel With My Schengen Visa?

You can travel to any of the 26 Schengen Countries with your Schengen Visa. Remember that when applying, you'll need to have a sufficient reason for the purpose of your trip. Also, you'll need to include all the Schengen countries you plan to visit during your trip.

If you're planning a trip to one of the Schengen Countries, we recommend using Atlys to apply for your Schengen Visa. When using Atlys, your visa application process is fast and simple. Atlys eliminates any concerns and frustrations you may encounter when applying for your Schengen Visa the traditional way.

Do I Need A Visa If I Have A Residence Permit?

If you have a valid residence permit from one of those Schengen countries, it is equivalent to a visa. You may need a national visa to visit non-Schengen countries.