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Differences between the Schengen area and the European Union

As one of the oldest continents and civilizations, Europe has a long, complicated political history. After the end of the Second World War, six countries signed the European Economic Community— later transformed into today’s European Union to stop future wars from happening and create an economic boom. 

Along with an economic treaty, these European countries signed an accord to abolish their borders and allow their citizens to travel freely without a passport or a visa. This accord is today’s Schengen Agreement. 

It’s important to understand the difference between the two unions and how these agreements complement each other since they are an integral part of Europe’s leadership. 

EU VS Schengen

While both the EU and the Schengen agreement are between EU countries; there are several differences between the two unions: 

The European UnionThe Schengen Zone 
The European Union is an economic and political union of several European countries.The Schengen Area is a travel zone of several European countries where citizens can travel freely without a passport or a visa.
Established in 1933.Established in 1985.
Its mission is to provide an internal market of goods, services, and capital.Its mission is to promote freedom of travel between its citizens and provide a common visa scheme for foreign visitors.
It has 27 European member states. It has 26 European member states. 
Each member state follows a set of rules and regulations, and every citizen in the EU has the right to vote in the EU parliament.Each member state follows the same guidelines for the Schengen visa, but each country can choose which visa applications to reject or approve. 

Schengen Countries VS EU Countries

Not all EU countries belong to the Schengen agreement and vice-versa, as listed below: 

CountryEuropean UnionSchengen Area
AustriaYesYes
BelgiumYesYes
The Czech RepublicYesYes
DenmarkYesYes
EstoniaYesYes
FinlandYesYes
FranceYesYes
GermanyYesYes
GreeceYesYes
HungaryYesYes
IcelandNoYes
ItalyYesYes
LatviaYesYes
LithuaniaYesYes
LuxembourgYesYes
MaltaYesYes
NetherlandsYesYes
NorwayNoYes
PolandYesYes
PortugalYesYes
SlovakiaYesYes
SloveniaYesYes
SpainYesYes
SwedenYesYes
SwitzerlandNoYes
LiechtensteinNoYes
BulgariaYesNo
CroatiaYesNo
Republic of CyprusYesNo
IrelandYesNo
RomaniaYesNo
schengen countries

EU VS Schengen Membership Conditions 

Any country who wishes to join the EU and the Schengen must meet a set of membership conditions: 

European Union Criteria Schengen Zone Criteria 
Have solid government institutions that provide democracy, solid laws protecting fundamental human rights and security and protection for marginalized groups.Be able to follow and implement the Schengen rules regarding border control, visa issuings, and data protection according to the “Schengen acquis.”*
Be able to follow the EU political, economic, and monetary guidelines.Cooperate with other agencies in Schengen zones regarding security and border control.
Be able to pay the membership feeHold accountability for every Schengen visa issued and external border control.
Have a valid economic market and financial power to compete with the EU market.Must use the Schengen Information System.

*The Schengen acquis is the group of guidelines that all Schengen countries follow— including treaties, regulations, implementation acts, and several other regulations. 

Why Are Some Countries in the EU but Not in the Schengen Area?

Some countries are not in the Schengen Area because when the initial European Union began to take form (the European Economic Community), not all member states agreed to abolish their borders, so the Schengen agreement was signed separately. 

Today, even the countries that are not officially a part of the Schengen Area follow the guidelines for border control under other de-facto agreements. 

Is the UK in the EU or Schengen?

The UK does not belong to either the EU or the Schengen Area. Until 2020, the United Kingdom was a part of the European Union but left after a transitional period. Until now, the UK is the only country that has left the union. 

Can I Use the Schengen Visa to Enter the Countries That Are Not in the EU?

You can use your Schengen visa to enter the following countries that are not in the EU: 

  • Albania
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Colombia
  • Croatia
  • Georgia
  • Gibraltar
  • Kosovo
  • Mexico
  • Montenegro
  • North Macedonia
  • Romania
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Serbia
  • Turkey

Find more information about visas that allow you to enter more than one country

Which European Countries Do Not Belong either to the EU or the Schengen Area?

The following European countries are not a part of the Schengen Area or the European Union:

  • Albania
  • Andora
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • Kosovo
  • North Macedonia
  • Moldova
  • Monaco
  • Montenegro
  • Russia
  • San Marino
  • Serbia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • Vatican City
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