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Schengen countries are those that have signed a 1985 Schengen agreement abolishing border checks/controls and harmonizing provisions, which allow a common visa to visit all participating countries. It means that passports will only be checked and stamped if arriving from or departing to a non-Schengen country.
The new Schengen Information System II (SIS II) went live on April 9, keeping track of all non-EU travelers in a central database and making it possible to search for stolen cars and weapons, missing people and criminal offenders.
Note that the term “Schengen countries” does not refer to all EU member states and includes non-EU countries, such as Liechtenstein that joined December 19, 2011.
Schengen visas allow travel within the entire Schengen zone, unless exceptions or exclusions are noted. If you were granted a non-Schengen or national visa, then you are only allowed passage to this specific country.
*Article last updated January 13, 2015
There are currently 26 Schengen countries, which include 22 EU countries and four non-EU countries.
Denmark — Restored passport checks & border control as of July 5, 2011, but then lifted them.
France and Monaco
Greece — At risk of being excluded from Schengen.
Liechtenstein — As of December 19, 2011
*Although the UK and Ireland are not part of Schengen, these countries were granted policing and judicial authority in criminal matters.
**Norway allows Russian citizens to visit certain areas of the country without a Schengen visa as of May 29, 2012, if they apply for a travel permit. — Barentsnova
Croatia and Bulgaria recognizes Schengen visas
Croatia is part of the EU as of July 1 but is NOT in Schengen and employs 5,000 Schengen border guards.
– EU/EEA citizens enjoy free movement;
– Non-EU citizens with EU/EEA residence permits may enter and visit without a visa;
– Schengen visa holders may transit through and visit Croatia as part of the ’90-day maximum in any 180-day period’ rule — unless the visa is restricted — from January 1 to December 31, 2013, without applying for a separate Croatian visa.
*See Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs web page “Visa requirements” or call the Croatian embassy/consulate nearest you to understand if you need a visa or have further questions.
Bulgaria does not issue Schengen visas (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bulgaria), but permits all Schengen visa holders to visit and stay in Bulgaria as if it were part of the 90-day maximum stay in any 180-day period allowable in the Schengen zone as of January 25, 2012. (Sofia Echo, Sofia News Agency). It also means that many banned from Schengen pass through Bulgaria’s borders without penalty (Standart).
Germany & Spain ease visa requirements for UAE citizens
Germany and Spain grant visas to citizens of the United Arab Emirates upon arrival in the two countries, without submitting applications, fees and fingerprints for Schengen visas prior to travel as of March 2013. — Gulf News, UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Not in Schengen, but no border checks
These countries are not in Schengen, but border authorities within the country do not carry out checks.
However, Schengen members that share a border with these countries typically do.
Scheng-end: Withdrawal/abandonment of Schengen
Denmark reinstated partial passport checks and border controls as of July 5, 2011 and intended to restore full border security at the end of 2011 — Der Spiegel, FT. However, they have since returned to no border checks.
France and Italy have threatened to abstain from Schengen, close borders for a limited period — which is their legal right — and want the Schengen rules modified, due to protests in Arab countries and a possible flood of immigrants. — Guardian
On May 12, 2011, a majority 15 of 27 EU countries voted to restore internal border checks and passport control, or at least tighten them temporarily.
On May 24, 2011, the European Commission proposed a “safeguard clause” that would allow Schengen countries to reimpose visa requirements on certain non-EU countries whose citizens abuse the system by crossing the border and claim asylum. This may include Serbia, FYROM/Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, all of which have unusually high rates of migration and asylum claims since entering the visa waiver program in December 2009. — BBC
On June 24, 2011, EU leaders pledged support for a common European asylum system (CEAS) and agreed that temporary border controls could be reimposed by Schengen countries “facing unusual migration pressures in a truly critical situation.” — BBC and European Voice
In March 2012, Sarkozy said that France would suspend participation in Schengen by March 2013, but he was voted out of office May 2012.
In April 2012, Spain temporarily suspended visa-free travel to stop protesters ahead of an ECB meeting. — Al Jazeera
A poll published May 2012 revealed that most EU citizens want to reintroduce border controls — France (64%), Belgium (62%), Italy (62%), Sweden (59%), Spain (54%) and Germany (51%). Citizens of Britain, a country not even in Schengen, are most in favor (74%) of increased controls (WSJ). Luxembourg and Netherlands are also in favor, to stem the flow of asylum seekers (Reuters).
Scotland announced in August 2013 that it would attempt to negotiate an agreement with the EU to opt out of Schengen, similar to that of the UK. — Telegraph
The EU recognizes the need for better monitoring of people who overstay their visas, and a proposal to revise laws or reintroduce passport control is pending. What applied 35 years ago is not true today. — New York Times
Pending action against Greece
Following complaints from fellow Schengen and EU members about lax implementation, a Council of Europe (COE) team arrived in Greece at end of May 2011 to assess gaps in border control, data management and communication between police, border control, airports, customs, coast guard, asylum and immigration authorities. A similar inspection took place in 2010, after which several deficiencies were detected.
Results of a 2011 investigation say that Greece remains Schengen’s weakest link. Greece, in turn, claims that Schengen visas remain an obstacle to attracting tourists and hurting the economy, and it wants a more relaxed policy.
Revisions to Schengen may allow the COE to conduct unannounced inspections and the EC to temporarily suspend or eject Greece for renewable 30-day periods, during which all travelers entering or exiting its borders — regardless of nationality and visa-free status — will be subject to passport control. — FT, Kathimerini
Citizens elected neo-Nazis into Parliament, after which Greece began an illegal immigrant crackdown in August 2012 to prove it’s serious about remaining in Schengen. Largely criticized as racist since Asians and Africans are targeted, police have detained 95 percent legal immigrants, tourists and visiting businessmen.
Visa Information Systems
The Visa Information Systems (VIS), which stores and links the fingerprints, photo, passport and personal information of each visa applicant, was scheduled to be fully operational in all Schengen countries and all consulates issuing Schengen visas by 2014. It aims to establish a system that is fair, secure and transparent, preventing non-EU citizens from “renting” passports, “shopping” for a visas in a different countries, and alerting consulates on who was denied a visa and why.
Rollout began in Africa and is set to include the Gulf from October 2, 2012, then Asia. Schengen visa applicants in countries where VIS is set up must give fingerprints as part of their application from October 11, 2011.
The VIS will not initially be linked to the Schengen Information System (SIS), which stores the names of cross-border crime suspects and the movements of non-EU citizens in the Schengen zone. Though it is expected that VIS will eventually be integrated with SIS II, which went live in April 2013.
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015?
Bulgaria and Romania were scheduled to join Schengen in March 2011, but Germany and France voiced opposition in December 2010, and an EU inspection report published July 20, 2011 cited “extreme deficiencies” in both countries in overcoming crime and corruption — The Economist. The Netherlands also vetoed entry in December 2011 and March 2012. Sweden said it would not block Bulgaria from Schengen, even after a number of its citizens were tricked across the border for non-existent fruit picker jobs in July 2012.
A meeting and vote scheduled for September 19-20, 2012 was canceled, after the Netherlands acknowledged Bulgaria had made progress but not enough on border controls and organized crime for entry; and Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium said it would not support Romania entering Schengen, due to ongoing political turmoil and instability. — FT, Novinite, WSJ
A report from the European Commission said both countries met technical criteria, but a high level of corruption persists at border areas. Another meeting and vote scheduled for March 2013 was postponed to December, when Germany, Finland and the Netherlands voiced their intention to veto entry. Bulgaria also exacerbated doubts of instability and diminished its chances of entering Schengen, when its government resigned in February 2013. — DW, Economist, Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC News
Countries seeking to enter Schengen must gain unanimous approval by all existing member countries, then pass a final vote in European Parliament.
As of 2015
Croatia became a full member of the EU on July 1, 2013, laying the groundwork to enter Schengen in 2015.
Since the Paris shooting at Charlie Hebdo, Spain and Belgium have called for return of passport and border checks within the Schengen zone and reform of the visa policy.
As of 2016
Cyprus was due to enter Schengen in March 2010 but is not yet a full member according to the official EU website and will be evaluated at the end of 2013 with a view to possible entry in 2016. See, “Countries in the Schengen Area.” Entrance to Schengen is believed to be partly political, and no official date to ascension has been announced.
Visa-free to Schengen vs. Being a Schengen member
Being a citizen of a country granted visa-free travel to Schengen is not the same thing as being a member of Schengen. For example, American and Australian citizens have been granted visa-free travel to the Schengen zone for up to 90 days as explained in “Countries that enjoy visa-free travel to Greece,” but the USA and Australia are not in Schengen and never will be because these countries are not on the European continent.
Schengen countries are those that have signed a treaty and met satisfactory political and economic stability requirements, plus passed strict inspections pertaining to border control, passport specifications and security checks over a period of years.
1. Is ___ in Schengen, or when is ___ going to join Schengen?
If a country is not listed as a member or a candidate, it is not in Schengen or scheduled to join Schengen. The article is updated regularly.
2. If I have a residence/work permit from ___ , can I move to or live/work in ___ ?
No. Residence/work permits from one Schengen country are not transferable to another Schengen country. Why? Schengen pertains to visas (temporary stays), not permits (permanent stays).
Permits are granted on the basis on rules and regulations in whatever country issued it; it is not permission to live/work in the entire zone. There are no Schengen-wide residence/work permits.
3. If I have a residence/work permit from ___ , can I travel to or visit ___ ?
Yes. If you have a valid, unexpired residence/work permit from one Schengen country, you are generally allowed to travel to and visit another Schengen member state. However, you should verify this with the country’s authorities that issued you the permit, i.e., The interior ministry, the foreign ministry, a border agency or the relevant consulate/embassy nearest your residence.
No. If the country you want to visit is not on the list. Confirm with local authorities in the country that issued the permit if a visa is required.
4. If I have a Schengen visa issued by ___ , can I travel to or visit ___ ?
Yes. The fourth paragraph of this article states this. If you have a Schengen visa issued by one Schengen country, you may visit all countries in the Schengen zone (those listed above) during the validity of your visa, which is usually 90 days maximum in any 180-day period. One of the countries you visit should be the country that issued you the Schengen visa, i.e., If the Greek consulate/embassy issued you a Schengen visa, then you should enter through Greece as the first country of your trip OR Greece should be on the itinerary of main countries you’re visiting.
No. If you have a Schengen visa that lists exclusions or exceptions, you are not allowed to visit whatever countries are off-limits to you. Or if you went to the Greek consulate/embassy and were issued a Schengen visa, but you have no intention on visiting Greece, the country or countries you end up visiting can invalidate or cancel your Schengen visa. Why? Because it’s the law and it looks like you applied under false pretenses.
5. If I have a non-Schengen visa issued by ___ , can I travel to or visit ___ ?
No. The fourth paragraph of this article states this. National visas or other non-Schengen visas are only good in the country that issued it.
Countries in the EU, EEA, eurozone and Schengen all belong to a greater whole, but let’s remember that individual countries retain their separate laws and borders.
6. If I’m a non-EU citizen and acquire dual citizenship with an EU/EEA country, does Schengen still apply?
Of course not. As an EU/EEA citizen you can live, work and travel freely in the EU/EEA/Schengen area because visas are unnecessary and the 90/180 rule is no longer relevant.
*I do not answer questions about visas and permits for countries other than Greece, as it would be impossible to learn the laws, languages and ever-changing bureaucracy governing hundreds of visas and permits issued by all European countries. Please consult local authorities or the embassy/consulate nearest your residence that represents the country concerned.
“A tour of eastern and western Europe” — The Economist
“Privacy a central issue in new Schengen database” — DW
“Countries in the Schengen Area” — europa.eu
“Q & A: Schengen Agreement” — BBC
“Thai citizens refused entry to Germany due to scam” — Nation
“Germany steps up security at border with Poland”
“Υπό επιτήρηση η Ελλάδα και για τη Σένγκεν“– Kathimerini
“The Greece clause: EU plans to exclude wayward Schengen countries” — FT
“Schengen Information System II on track for 2013” — Guardian
“Romania may join Schengen in two-step process by 2012” — Business Week
“Finland softens stance on Bulgaria, Romania” — Reuters
“Schengen countries begin collecting fingerprints for visa applications” — EU Observer
“Σε λειτουργία το νέο σύστημα θεωρήσεων διαβατηρίων της ΕΕ” — To Vima
“Schengen: Stricter EU rules to prevent illegal border checks” — European Parliament
“Lichtenstein joins Schengen on December 19” — EU Observer
“Visas in Europe: Keep out” — The Economist
“France and Germany want new Schengen rules” — Reuters
“Spike in cross-border car thefts upon Poland’s entry to Schengen” — Der Spiegel
“Visas in Europe: EU’s restrictive policies irk some big neighbouring countries” — The Economist
“Netherlands defends border control project” — EU Observer
“Dutch say no to Bulgaria & Romania Schengen entry” — Reuters
“Europe pursues tighter borders” — WSJ
“Germany, Austria warn Greece to tighten border controls” — Reuters
“Faced with expulsion from Schengen, Greece clamps down on migrants” — EU Activ
“Mini-Schengen for Ireland, UK?” — Business Post
“Signposts of EU’s imperfect union” — NY Times
“Germany says no to Bulgaria joining Schengen in 2012” — Noinvite
“Bulgaria and Romania: A lighter shade of grey” — The Economist
“VIS cuts Schengen visa abuse” — Computer Weekly
“Kosovars with Schengen visas may visit Croatia as of January 2013” — Kosova Press
“EU plans to tighten Schengen visa rules” — Deutsche Welle
“Illegals slip over Turkish-Greek border” — NY Times
“Why the EU should starting discriminating again” — Telegraph
“EU’s bureaucratic safari” — WSJ
“Europe seeks to stem flow of Balkan asylum seekers” — Reuters
“Poland to suspend Schengen from Nov. 8-23, 2013” — Krakow Post