The Schengen Zone: Everything You Need to Know

Last Updated on November 1, 2023

The Schengen Area, also called the “Schengen Zone,” consists of 26 countries across Europe. Schengen countries have a reciprocal travel and free movement arrangement, function as a unified jurisdiction for the purposes of international travel and share a common visa policy. We sat down with members of Envoy’s global team to get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Schengen Area and corresponding visa.

A closer look at the Schengen Zone with Envoy’s global team

What is the Schengen Area?

The Schengen Area grants free movement to over 400 million citizens of the European Union (EU), along with non-EU nationals who are living in the EU or visiting as exchange students, business travelers, or tourists. Free movement allows EU citizens to live and travel in an EU country without being subject to entry restrictions and border control policies that impact non-EU citizens.

What are the Schengen countries?

The Schengen Area includes the following countries: 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. Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area.

Is the Schengen Area the same as the European Union (EU)?

Most countries in the Schengen Area are also part of the EU, with the exception of Ireland, the U.K., Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The latter three countries are part of the European Economic Area (EEA), which also includes the member states of the EU.

Despite sharing geographic boundaries, there are some key differences between the EU and the Schengen Area. The Schengen region is a group of European countries that are united politically and economically by the Schengen Agreement, and the EU is a consortium of 28 member states with political and economic ties. Countries within the EU have a free movement agreement and an internal tariff-free market.

What is the Schengen Visa?

When a non-EU national requires a visa, the Schengen Visa permits short-term stays and travel through the Schengen Area. With a Schengen Visa, foreign nationals can stay in the Schengen Zone or transit through the area for a maximum of 90 days in a 180-day period. The Schengen countries have a reciprocal visa system, which means that a Schengen Visa issued by one country is valid for travel and transit across the entire Schengen region.

Foreign nationals must meet certain requirements to obtain a Schengen Visa, including having sufficient financial means to support themselves and their dependents while staying in a Schengen country. Foreign nationals should also note that even with a Schengen Visa, they are not guaranteed entry into a Schengen country and must meet all other entry requirements for their intended country of stay.

What activities can be performed with a Schengen Visa?

A Schengen Visa can be used for the following purposes:

  • Business
  • Visiting family and friends
  • Tourism and vacation travel
  • Attending sport and cultural events
  • Air and sea travel
  • Medical reasons
  • Education
  • Official purposes, such as diplomatic missions

A Schengen Visa may be issued as a single-entry, double-entry, or multiple-entry visa.

How do foreign nationals obtain a Schengen Visa?

To obtain a Schengen Visa, foreign nationals must apply for the visa at the consulate of the country they plan to visit first. Individuals visiting more than one country should apply at the consulate where they will spend the most time. If stays in various countries will be equal in length, foreign nationals should apply at the consulate in the first country of arrival.

A Schengen Visa application should be submitted at the consulate no less than 15 days prior to travel but no more than six months in advance.

The European Commission provides a list of consulates in each Schengen country.

European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS)

The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is a new travel authorization that foreign nationals will need before being allowed to enter the Schengen Zone. The travel authorization was created by the EU to create stronger border controls and security across the Schengen Area. The ETIAS will be a standard requirement for all non-EU national travelers entering Europe by the end of 2022. Travelers to the Schengen Zone will also need an ETIAS, even if they do not need a visa to enter Europe.

Currently, travelers from 60 countries will need to obtain an ETIAS before they can travel to the Schengen Zone, and this will likely increase in the future. As with the Schengen Visa, the ETIAS will permit short-term stays of up to 90 days in the Schengen Area and will be required for business and tourism-related travel.

COVID-19 Restrictions and Considerations

Prospective travelers to the Schengen Zone should be aware that COVID-19 policies are still in effect and may impact their ability to travel to and within the Schengen region. Please contact Envoy’s global team for more information on travel restrictions and permissions affecting the Schengen Area.

Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Brendan Coggan, who is the SVP of Global Services at Envoy Global and Founding Partner at Corporate Immigration Partners.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.