What is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Area is a zone that consists of 26 neighbouring countries which have abolished passport and all other types of border controls at mutual borders. There are effectively no hard borders between the participating countries, only a singular, shared border.
The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 by ten European countries and a further 16 countries have joined since then. The Schengen Area and the European Union (EU) are two separate entities. Not all Schengen members are in the EU and not all EU members are in the Schengen Area.
In total, the Schengen Area has a population of over 400 million people and covers an area larger than four million square kilometres. Many travellers can currently enter the region without a visa, while others need a Schengen visa. In the case of visa-free nationals, as of late 2022, they will need to obtain a special travel authorisation known as ETIAS for accessing Schengen countries in journeys of up to 90 days and their main purpose is tourism, business or transit. In this regard, travellers must know ETIAS is not a visa: this travel permit is actually a visa waiver, which is a different type of authorisation.
Schengen zone border controls
Given that there are no internal checkpoints in the Schengen Area, efficient and secure external borders are essential to keeping the region safe.
Each country manages its external borders in accordance with the Schengen Borders Code. This set of common rules ensures consistency and means that travellers know what to expect.
To enter the Schengen Area from a third country, and depending on the visitors’ nationality, they might need either a Schengen visa or -as of late 2022- an ETIAS visa waiver. Although a Schengen visa and ETIAS are two completely different types of travel documents, in both cases after crossing the border visitors can stay in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days.
Travellers with ETIAS
Currently, citizens from visa-exempt countries can cross an external Schengen border using only their valid passport. Nationals who do not need to comply with any visa requirements can enter this travel zone in a rather quick and hassle-free manner.
Once ETIAS has been implemented, this visa waiver will also be verified upon arrival once the passport is scanned by border officials.
Schengen visa requirements
Foreigners who are not eligible for ETIAS need a Schengen visa to cross the external border. The visa is obtained at a Schengen nation embassy, while supporting documentation such as proof of funds and medical coverage is required. Travellers are asked to present their valid passport and Schengen visa at the border checkpoint.
Whilst there are no internal checkpoints in place, travellers should carry their documentation with them and be prepared to answer any questions authorities may have.
Schengen countries’ list
Currently, there are 26 European countries that form part of the Schengen Area (ETIAS countries). Twenty-two of the twenty-eight EU countries are included (the UK and Ireland are the two main opt-outs) and there are four non-EU Schengen members (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland).
Potential Schengen members
As things stand, travellers with an ETIAS travel authorisation or Schengen visa can visit 26 nations. This number will increase if any of the potential Schengen candidates gain membership.
Four nations are in the process of joining the Schengen Area:
How to become a Schengen member country
To join the Schengen zone, countries must meet all the entry conditions. Firstly, any nation wishing to join the region must be able to manage external borders and issue uniform Schengen visas.
Potential Schengen countries must also agree to cooperate with law enforcement agencies across the region. Such cooperation allows for a high level of security to be maintained once internal borders are abolished.
Schengen membership requires that countries apply the common Schengen rules and also connect to and make use of the Schengen Information System (SIS).
Applicant nations must pass the Schengen evaluation before being able to join. They will also be assessed on a regular basis after membership is granted in order to ensure all the criteria continue to be met.
ETIAS eligible countries
Currently, there are more than 60 eligible nationalities that will need ETIAS to travel to Europe by the end of 2022. Once the new visa waiver becomes available, citizens from each of the countries listed below will be required to register with ETIAS before entering the Schengen Area.
The online ETIAS application system will soon be available to passport holders from these countries. With the approved permit travellers can stay in Europe without a visa for up to 90 days per 180-day period.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Hong Kong
- Marshall Islands
- New Zealand
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent
- Solomon Islands
- South Korea
- Timor Leste
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
- United States of America