The Schengen Agreement
The Schengen Agreement was originally created in 1985. All states which belong to the Schengen area are European Union members, except Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, which are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Switzerland joined the Schengen Area on 12th December 2008. Two EU members, the United Kingdom and Ireland, have opted not to fully participate in the Schengen system and have their own visa requirements.
This agreement has resulted in more members joining and the subsequent removal of border controls between the participating countries.
What is a Schengen Visa?
List of Schengen Countries and Territories
General Schengen Visa requirements
How to Apply for a Schengen Visa
When to Apply for a Schengen Visa
Where to Apply for a Schengen Visa
Documents required for a tourist Schengen Visa
Documents required for a business Schengen Visa
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Airports requiring transit visas from certain nationalities
Latest Schengen Visa Application Form
BONUS - Template employer's letter
What is a Schengen Visa?
A Schengen Visa is a visa issued by a country within the European Union who forms part of the Schengen State. Foreign citizens from a country which is not part of the European Union require a Schengen Visa if they intend to travel to a country which is part of the EU or EFTA. A Schengen Visa enables the passport holder entry into countries which form part of the Schengen State who are then able to travel freely throughout the Schengen zone. Internal border controls have disappeared and there are little or no stops and checks within the zone.
There are currently 26 Schengen Countries.
Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain implemented the agreement in 1995. They were followed by Italy and Austria in 1997, Greece in 2000, and Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland in 2001.
Nine more members joined in 2007, they are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Switzerland implemented the agreement on 12 December 2008.
The UK and Ireland have opted out of the Schengen Agreement. The UK wants to maintain its own borders, and Ireland prefers to preserve its free movement arrangement with the UK - called the Common Travel Area - rather than join the Schengen Agreement.
The map below highlights the Schengen countries. (in orange)
Applying for a Schengen Visas
If you intend to travel to any of the Schengen countries and you are not a citizen of the EU or EFTA you will need to obtain a Schengen visa before your departure. It's also important to check if you need a transit visa if you are travelling through a Schengen State toward your final destination:
Which country will you be travelling to?
A Schengen visa is applied for at the local Embassy, Consulate or Visa Application Centre of the Schengen country which you will be spending the most nights on your trip to the Schengen area. If you are only visiting one country on your trip then you apply for your visa at the local Embassy, Consulate or Visa Application centre of this Schengen country. If you are spending an equal amount of time between several Schengen countries then you should apply at the local Embassy, Consulate or Visa Application Centre of the country that will be your first port of entry.
How long is your intended stay?
A Schengen visa is usually granted as a single entry or multi-entry visa and is valid for 3, 6 or 12 months. However each consulate grant Schengen visa's using different scoring criteria. It's important to be very clear and honest about your travel intentions.
Have you got means to support yourself while on holiday?
When applying for a Schengen visa you will need to provide current bank statements amongst other documents. It's is advised to have at least £60 in your bank account for each day you intend to stay in the Schengen zone. Don't rely heavily on overdraft facilities.
What about travel insurance?
You will need travel insurance when you apply for a Schengen visa. You can obtain Schengen travel insurance from the Visa Guru site.
How long does it take to get a Schengen Visa?
It really depends on the consulate. Some take a week, others take 15 working days. It's important to take this into account when planning your holiday. It is also important to remember that you may only get an appointment to apply for the Schengen visa in 3 weeks time so this should be taken into consideration before booking your holiday.
My passport is due to expire in 3 months, can I get a Schengen Visa?
More than likely not, most countries require your passport to be valid for travel for the next 6 to 12 months before it's due to expire. You will also need a blank page (sometimes 2 opposite) in the passport to accommodate the Schengen visa stamp.
Keep in mind that some countries make it more difficult to obtain a Schengen visa. Have a look at a Visa Hassle Factor and 'factor' this in when planning your holiday.