The Schengen Agreement was originally signed in 1985, but was not implemented until 10 years later in 1995. The Schengen Area is the area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders, also referred to as internal borders. It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. Countries in the Schengen Area have eliminated internal border controls with the other Schengen members, and strengthened external border controls with non-Schengen states. The Schengen area encourages the free movement of goods, information, money and people. Twenty-two of the twenty-eight European Union (EU) member states participate in the Schengen Area. Of the six EU members that do not form part of the Schengen Area, four - Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania - are legally obliged and wish to join the area, while the other two – Ireland and the United Kingdom – maintain opt-outs. All four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland – have signed the Schengen Agreement, even though they are outside the EU.
This is a list of countries participating in the Schengen Agreement:
In addition three European microstates - Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican - can be considered as de facto within the Schengen Area as they do not have border controls with the Schengen countries that surround them; but they have not officially signed documents that make them part of Schengen.
The countries in the Schengen Agreement have a uniform visa regime that distinguishes three main types of visa. In addition, specific types exist for special groups (notably, refugees and diplomats), but these are not relevant to regular travellers.
Transit visa are required for non-exempt third-country nationals passing through the Schengen area.
Visitor visa are required for non-exempt third-country nationals. The same rules apply to those who are exempt from visa application; they just do not need to apply in advance, but are granted the visa (in the form of an entry stamp) upon arrival.
National visa are subject to regulations of the issuing state. They are not uniform Schengen visa, and come by many different names.
Combination visa have become defunct. From April 5, 2010 onwards, holders of a national visa for a country within the Schengen area can travel to other Schengen countries as if they had a visitor visa. The same rules apply.
Countries can be divided in four groups as below. This website gives an up-to-date overview of which countries are part of which group.
See the list at the beginning of the article. Holders of a passport or European ID card from these countries or their overseas territories do not require a visa. Other residents do, in most cases.
For a number of countries, special provisions are made in the Schengen agreement. Nationals from those countries and territories do not require a visa. This is the case for
Nationals from a number of countries do not have to apply for a C-type visa in advance. They are permitted to travel within the Schengen Area as a whole without a visa for a maximum of 3 months within a 6 month period. This is the case for
The exemption is only granted to 'clean' nationals of the above countries. If you have criminal antecedents or a SIS registration, the exemption does not apply. You will be denied entry in those cases, and be repatriated at your own expense.
Nationals from all other countries have to apply for a visa in advance. This is the case for
Applications should be made with the competent representation (i.e., the consulate) of the country of first entry, or of the country that is the main destination. The application process is handled by the party states, and is therefore not uniform. More information and application forms can be found on the respective consulate websites. Most countries' Immigration Services also have a webpage with more information.
Violating the conditions of your Schengen visa renders the visa invalid. Holders of an invalid visa automatically receive the status of unwanted alien; if you happen to come to the attention of national law enforcement while having said status, you will be deported out of the Schengen area at your own expense.
Overstaying is the most common visa violation. Be advised that you will always be caught, as your visa is checked upon leaving the Schengen area. Overstaying may be penalized with a substantial fine, payable on the spot. In addition, you will be registered as a visa offender in the Schengen Information System (SIS), which party countries and certain non-Schengen countries consult before granting you a visa. Registration in SIS will greatly diminish your chances to get another Schengen visa in the future. In addition, SIS registration may lead to trouble entering other countries, notably the USA and Canada. Finally, note that some Schengen member states are currently passing legislation that makes illegal residency a criminal offence. Overstaying in those countries could mean you will have a criminal record!
Also, many people are under the impression that, once they are inside the Schengen area, they are 'home free', and run no risk of being caught. This is not true. Even though border checks have been abolished, countries party to the Schengen Agreement retain the full right to make sure that everyone on their territory has a valid reason for being there. Checks in public transport are common; some member states even allow random ID checks on the streets.
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