Ever since the European Community was created in the late 1950s, the EU countries have been making constant attempts to abolish barriers between each other for the movement of goods and traveling. The Schengen Agreement and the creation of the Schengen Area is the result of these continuous attempts.

In this article, you can find more about the Schengen Zone in Europe, how it functions, the participating countries, the management of internal and external borders and more. In addition, you can also find a short brief on the Schengen Visa and how is traveling arranged within this zone.

What is Schengen?

Schengen Area CountriesSchengen is a European zone consisting of 26 countries, which have abolished internal borders. Instead, these countries altogether have focused on the strengthening of external borders.  The citizens of Schengen Zone are permitted to move from one country to the other, within this territory, as if the whole region was a single country.

The Schengen Area covers the majority of Europe, and includes some of the most powerful and oldest countries of the old continent. Most of the countries are part of the EU block as well. On the other hand, there are other countries as Switzerland and Lichtenstein which are not in the EU, but which still enjoy free movement within this territory, as they are part of the Schengen Zone.

Today, it is home to around 400 million people, who make 1.2 billion journeys per year within the Schengen territory.

The name “Schengen” comes from the small winemaking town and commune of Schengen in far southeastern Luxembourg, where France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands signed the Schengen Agreement.

Schengen Agreement

France and Germany made the first move that led to the signing of the Schengen Agreement. Both countries took the initial step towards the creation of a visa-free passport-less zone, on June 17, 1984 when they brought out the issue within the framework of the European Council in Fontainebleau.

The government of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the Schengen Agreement on June 14, 1985. According to the agreement, the five countries would establish a gradual abolition of border checks at common borders.

The agreement started its concrete implementation five years later. On June 19, 1990, the same countries met to sign a convention on the implementation of the Schengen agreement, which at the time covered:

  • The abolition of internal border controls,
  • Definition of uniform visa issuance procedures,
  • Operation of the SIS database,
  • The establishment of a cooperating structure between internal and immigration officers

The expansion of Schengen started just a few months later with Italy signing the agreement, followed by Spain and Portugal.  Liechtenstein was the last to sign, on February 2008.

Schengen Area Countries

Today, the Schengen Zone consists of 26 European countries, the citizens of which move freely within the territory. Despite that Liechtenstein was the last country to become a member state, the Schengen Area is open for the other countries to join. However, each potential member state has to fulfill some criteria, in order to become a part of the Schengen.

The current Schengen Area member states are as follows:

  1. Austria
  2. Belgium
  3. Czech Republic
  4. Denmark
  5. Estonia
  6. Finland
  7. France
  8. Germany
  9. Greece
  10. Hungary
  11. Iceland
  12. Italy
  13. Latvia
  14. Liechtenstein
  15. Lithuania
  16. Luxembourg
  17. Malta
  18. Netherlands
  19. Norway
  20. Poland
  21. Portugal
  22. Slovakia
  23. Slovenia
  24. Spain
  25. Sweden
  26. Switzerland

Schengen State’s Territories that are not part of the Schengen

Four Schengen countries, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark, have overseas departments and territories. The Schengen Agreement regulates travelling to those countries, as well. Some of them may be part of the European Union, but none of them is part of the Schengen area.


The French overseas departments are part of the European Union, but none of these departments are part of the Schengen Area. These departments are as follows:

  • French Guiana
  • Guadeloupe
  • Martinique
  • Mayotte and Réunion
  • The overseas collectivity of Saint Martin

On the other hand, several French territories are neither part of the EU nor the Schengen Area. These territories are:

  • French Polynesia
  • French Southern and Antarctic Lands
  • New Caledonia
  • Saint Barthélemy
  • Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
  • Wallis and Futuna

The Netherlands

Six Dutch territories in the Caribbean are outside the Schengen area as well, which are:

  • BES islands – Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba *
  • Aruba**
  • Curacao**
  • Sint Maarten**

*Special municipalities within the Netherlands proper

**Autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands


The Norwegian territory of Svalbard has a special status under international law. It is neither part of the EU nor of the Schengen Zone.


The Danish territories of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, as well, are neither part of the European Union nor the Schengen Area.

EU member states with opt-outs

Upon the creation of the Schengen Area, most of the countries that were members of the European Union block, signed the agreement. However, the Republic of Ireland, as well as the United Kingdom which now is no longer part of the EU as of January 31, 2020, decided to remain outside the Schengen Area.

Both of them maintain a Common Travel Area with passport-free travel for their citizens between them and the three British Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, which are outside the European Union. As per Gibraltar, which is a British Overseas Territory, it is neither part of the Schengen Area nor the Common Travel Area.

Potential Schengen Area members

Four EU countries – Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia – are not yet part of the Schengen Area. Unlike the UK and Ireland that opted out, these four actually want to join. However, because of technical issues or internal country issues, they are still in the process of joining the borderless Schengen Area.


The island country has not yet joined the Schengen territory because of the Cyprus Dispute. Cyprus has been the largest source of tension between Greece and Turkey since 1974, after the coup d’état that took place on the island in an attempt of the Greek military junta to join the island with Greece, which resulted in an armed conflict in the island.

Bulgaria and Romania

Both countries became part of the EU at the same date, on January 1, 2007. However, their accession into the Schengen has been delayed because of the concerns raised by the Council of Ministers, about shortcomings in anti-corruption measures and in the fight against organized crime.


Croatia is the last country that joined the EU, so far. The country is still in the process of joining the area.

Status of the European microstates

Among the five European microstates, only Liechtenstein is officially part of the Schengen Area. The other three – Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City – keep an open border with one of the Schengen States.

  • Monaco has an open border with France. The 2km2 country acts as if it was a part of France, though officially it is independent.
  • San Marino – has an open border with Italy.
  • Vatican City – the smallest country in the world has an open border with Italy, too.

Whereas Andorra retains border controls with both France and Spain. However, it permits travellers to enter its territory if they hold a Schengen multiple-entry visa.

How does the Schengen Area function?

The Schengen Area would not be able to function properly, if it did not have rules and laws, which regulate all aspects, including travelling and security.

The fundamental characteristics of the Schengen Zone are as follows:

  • Schengen states have eliminated internal controls, instead working altogether in the strengthening of external borders
  • Schengen citizens can move from one country to another without having to obtain a permit. However, once they move they have to register their address at the local authorities.
  • Travellers will go through checks only on the port from where they enter the Schengen
  • Schengen members are responsible for the removal of all obstacles in order to enable a fluid flow of road traffic
  • All Schengen countries respect the common rules for non-Schengen countries’ citizens applying to cross the EU’s external border, including common asylum policies.

Visa Information System (VIS)

Technology plays a crucial role in the functioning of the Schengen Area. The member states have invented and established security and information systems for the proper functioning of the area.

The Visa Information System, abbreviated as the VIS, is an IT system that collects, processes and shares information among member states.

Its purpose is to make sharing of information between the members possible and easier. Its objectivities are:

  • to facilitate border checks, so border guards can identify the identity of all those who wish to enter the territory
  • to facilitate the issuance of visas
  • to fight abuses and protect travellers
  • to help with asylum applications by making it easier to decide which state is responsible for the examination of an asylum application
  • enhancing security

Schengen Information System (SIS)

The SIS is another information system established to help the member states in the law enforcement and cooperation. The system enables competent authorities as police to enter and consult alerts in certain categories of wanted or missing persons.

In general, its main purposes are:

  • Border control cooperation
  • Law enforcement cooperation
  • Cooperation on vehicle registration

What is a Schengen Visa?

A Schengen visa is a document in the form of a sticker affixed to the passport of a traveler. It permits its holder to enter the 26 Schengen countries, without the need to present it before entering each country. Instead, those holding a Schengen visa will only need to present it at the Schengen port of entry.

To obtain a Schengen visa, a traveler should collect the required documents, attend e visa interview, and pay the visa fee.

Depending on the purpose of entry, one can apply for one of the following Schengen visa types:

  • Tourist Visa
  • Visa for visiting friends / family members
  • Business Visa
  • Medical Visa
  • Study Visa
  • Training / Internship Visa.

On the other hand, depending on the times one needs to enter Schengen, one can apply for:

  • A single-entry visa – which permits you to enter the Schengen states only once.
  • A double-entry visa – that permits you to return once more after you have left Schengen zone.
  • A multiple-entry visa – with which you can enter the Schengen states as many times as you wish, within a period of 3 or 5 years.

Who needs a Schengen visa?

Only the citizens of the Schengen Area are fully free to move from one country to another. In general, the nationals of non-Schengen countries need to obtain a visa. However, the Schengen Area has created a visa-waiver for the nationals of multiple countries around the world.

If you do not need a visa to Germany, then you do not need a visa to any of the other Schengen states.

Which countries can you visit with a Schengen visa?

Aside from having the chance to visit 26 Schengen countries with a single document, you can also visit some others, who are not part of this territory. A number of countries around the world allow foreigners holding a multiple-entry Schengen visa to enter their territory and stay there for a limited period, say two weeks.

The non-Schengen countries you can visit with a Schengen visa are:

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

Schengen Visa Validity

The validity of your Schengen visa depends on how the visa officers that process your application sees it reasonable. Usually you are given the required time to remain in Schengen. However, sometimes you may get a visa with a shorter or longer validity, than you required.

When you receive your passport with the visa sticker on it, read it carefully. It contains the first date you can step in the Schengen zone, and the last day that you have to leave. In addition, it also gives the number of days that you are permitted to spend in this territory.

Remember that the number of days you are permitted to stay in Schengen countries is always a shorter period, while the validity of your visa is longer. Be careful not to overstay your visa validity and the number of days you are permitted to stay. If you do so, you may face fines or even a ban from the Schengen Area.