In 1985, near the village of Schengen in Luxembourg, five European countries signed an agreement to gradually eliminate border controls between their countries. Since then, the Schengen agreement has become the basis for the elimination of border controls between 26 European countries facilitating the flow of people and goods throughout Europe. Visitors are subject to immigration inspection when entering the Schengen area, but not when traveling between Schengen states.
Here are few key facts about this important region:
- Not every EU member is party to the Schengen agreement: The UK and Ireland both maintain their own border processes. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are other EU members that are not party to the Schengen agreement.
- Not all Schengen countries are EU countries: Three countries are party to Schengen but have not joined the EU: Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.
- Schengen allows visa-free visits for business or tourism by citizens of more than 60 states: Citizens of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States are all on the list, which can be found here. EU citizens can also travel to Schengen visa-free even if their country is not a party to the Schengen agreement.
- Visa-free business visitors can stay for 90 days in a 180-day period: Where as many countries limit visitors to a specific number of days per entry, stays in the Schengen area can be no more than 90 days in any 180-day period. Online calculators can help a traveler determine how close they are to this rolling limit.
- Duration of stay is not the only limit on Schengen visitors: Visitors to the Schengen area also have to be sure to abide by limitations on activities, not just limitations on stay. In general, the performance of hands on work or of duties core to the person’s job is not permitted even if for less than 90 days. An immigration attorney can advise on the appropriate visa or work permit for work-related activities.
- Travelers who require visitor visas must apply for a visa through their main destination country: If a traveler is planning to visit multiple Schengen countries, Schengen visa rules require they apply through the consulate of the country where they will be spending the most time. This is true even if another consulate would be more convenient. Applicants who do not obey this rule can be denied visas.
- A Schengen visitor visa can be used to enter any Schengen state: Holders of Schengen visitor visas can use the visa to enter countries other than the issuing state. For example, a traveler with a valid multiple entry visitor visa originally obtained for a business trip to Germany can use the same visa for a vacation to Italy. They also do not have to enter the issuing country first.
- Schengen countries have the right to reintroduce border controls: While open borders are the norm between Schengen countries, every country has the right to temporarily reintroduce border checks in the event of a “serious threat to public policy or national security.” Recently, this has been invoked during times of increased security threats, for high-level political meetings, ahead of Papal visits for example, and around major sporting events.
- Schengen is about more than the abolition of border controls: Under the Schengen agreement and implementing agreements, members of the Schengen area have developed a common set of rules for visa issuance and systems to share information between governments.
- The Schengen Agreement is not the only open border agreement in the world: Other open border agreements include the UK-Ireland Common Travel Area, the CA4 border control agreement in Central America, and the Trans-Tasman Agreement between Australia and New Zealand. The specifics of the agreements vary, but usually include freedom of movement for citizens of party states and controls on entry to the party states carried out at the first country of entry.