The Schengen Area is a territory of 26 European countries that have abolished borders between them. The 26 Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. It covers an area of 4,312,099 square kilometers which is 1,664,911 square miles.
22 of these countries are European Union member states and four other countries are part of the European Free Trade Association, which are Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein.
|Type of zone||Passport-free area with a common visa policy|
|Number of member countries||26|
|Date created||26 March 1995|
|Total area||4,312,099 km2|
|Population as of 2018||419,392,429|
|Number of crossings per year||1.3 billion|
EU Member States With Opt-outs
The Republic of Ireland is the only EU member that refused to sign the Schengen Agreement, prior to the 2004 enlargement. Ireland and the UK have formed a Common Travel Area with passport-free travel for their citizens and the three British Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, that are outside the European Union.
Since Britain refused to sign the agreement because it is easier for an island nation to maintain borders, while Ireland assessed that it was not in its interest to end the travel agreement with Britain and reestablish the border checks.
Prospective Schengen Area Members
Though 22 out of 27 European Union member states are part of the Schengen Zone, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia—have not yet been admitted to the Schengen area.
Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, has to solve the Cyprus dispute before joining the borderless territory of Schengen. On the other hand, although Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007, their bid to become part of Schengen has been rejected by the Council of Minister on September 2011.
Whereas Croatia was requested to conduct a technical evaluation which started in July 2015. On June 2017 it joined the SIS II for law enforcement cooperation, and the further progress is a political issue.
Are European Microstates Part of the Schengen Zone?
Though Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City have no border controls with the Schengen countries that surround them officially they are not part of the Schengen Area. While Monaco has an open border with France, the Vatican City and San Marino have an open border with Italy.Andorra retains border controls with both France and Spain and accepts Schengen Visas (multiple-entry visas only).
On the other hand, Liechtenstein which has been a Schengen zone member country since 2011, does not issue visas but recommends visitors to apply for a visa at other Schengen countries.
Territories of Schengen States Outside the Area
The Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira are the only countries which are part of the Schengen Zone, while they are not located in the European continent. The territories of the European Union Members that are outside of Europe, are exempted from the European Union.
For example, the French overseas departments of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion, and the overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin as well, are part of the European Union but do not part of the Schengen Zone.
The six Dutch territories in the Caribbean and the Danish territories of the Faroe Islands and Greenland as well are neither part of the European Union or the Schengen Area.
Schengen Area Border Policy
The essential features of the Schengen Area which are based on the elimination of borders between the European member countries are as follows:
- The member countries do not carry out border checks at their internal borders and also carry out harmonized controls, based on clearly defined and jointly agreed with criteria at their external borders.
- A citizen passing from one Schengen country to another Schengen country does not need to undergo border checks, which means he or she does not have to show a traveling document at the borders.
- However, an identification document (ID or passport) is necessary at ports and airports.
- The Schengen member states are obligated to remove all obstacles in order to enable a fluid flow of the road traffic.
- Police checks may be carried out only with the purpose to prevent possible threats to public security.
- Within the area, there is an increased police operation, in particular through hot pursuit, cross-border surveillance, as well as the establishment of joint police centers and teams.
- Also, the Schengen member countries have common rules for the non-Schengen countries’ citizens applying to cross the EU’s external border, including common asylum policies.
Temporary reintroduction of internal border control
The Schengen rules still allow national authorities of each country to exceptionally and temporarily reintroduce internal border controls in case of a serious threat to security or of serious deficiencies at the external border that can put the overall functioning of the Schengen area at risk. This is regulated through the Regulation (EU) No 1051/2013 that the EU has adopted.
Criteria to Join the Schengen Zone
The non-Schengen Area countries that wish to become members need to fulfill some criteria in order to be able to join the area. This is regulated by the Council Regulation (EU) No 1053/2013. Among the main and most important conditions are:
- The candidate country is responsible to control the external borders of the area on behalf of the other Schengen states and for issuing uniform short-stay visas (Schengen visas)
- The candidate country is capable to efficiently work with the other Schengen states in order to maintain a high level of security after the removal of internal border controls
- The candidate country can apply the set of Schengen rules, as rules on land, sea and air border controls, visa issuing, police cooperation, and personal data protection
- And lastly, in order to join the Schengen Area, the candidate state must connect to and use the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the Visa Information System (VIS).
Applicant countries have to undergo a “Schengen evaluation” before joining the Schengen Area. There is also something called a Schengen Evaluation Mechanism, which controls the member countries, whether they are carrying their duties as they are supposed to. Approximately, each year 5 to 7 member states are evaluated through visits by the Commission teams of experts. After each visit a Schengen Evaluation Report is drawn up. If it identifies any weakness on the evaluated country, then recommendations for remedial action are presented.
What is the Visa Policy of Schengen Area Countries?
The European Union member states have a common list of the countries, the nationals of which need a visa in order to enter the Schengen territory. The EU decides on visa exemptions case by case.The Schengen states also have common rules for issuing short-stay Schengen visas, which are valid within the entire Schengen area. These visas allow a person to stay and travel in the territories of Schengen states for a maximum of 90 days in any six month period.
Depending on the purpose of your travel the embassy or consulate of your Schengen destination country will issue you the appropriate visa.
How Can I Gain Entry Into the Countries of the Schengen Area?
To enter a country in the Schengen Area you must present some additional documents at the Schengen port of entry. If you have already obtained a visa for the Schengen area, you need to show your passport with the Schengen visa sticker to the official at the Schengen port of entry. However, they might also ask for proof of purchased Schengen travel insurance and some evidence of accommodation in Europe.
Schengen Area Security System
Technology plays a crucial role in the Security System of the Schengen Area, in the reinforcement of external borders and the collecting, processing, and sharing of information that is relevant to external border management. Read more about the Schengen area security systems here.