The Schengen Visa was introduced to make travelling faster and easier between all the EU countries that signed up for the agreement. The benefits of pre-applying for a Schengen Visa mean that once any Schengen member country has issued a visa, the holder of that visa can move freely between member countries. This avoids the need to apply for multiple visas for the EU countries they intend to visit, reducing cost and paperwork. Those wishing to tour several European countries, either for business or pleasure, can benefit from the freedom of movement provided by the Schengen Treaty and Visa.
Passport holders from countries that need a visa to enter Europe need to make their visa application before arriving in Europe. Once a visa is granted, the visa holder can enter and travel through all the countries within the Schengen area. As visa extensions can be complicated to obtain, we strongly advise travellers to plan their trip to stay within the original Schengen Visa timescale to remain compliant with all Schengen rules. Currently, a Schengen Visa permits the holder to stay within the Schengen countries for up to 90 days in any period of 180 days.
Schengen Countries / Schengen Area
Currently the Schengen agreement applies to 26 member countries*, including four which are not members of the European Union (EU). The UK and Ireland are members of the European Union (EU) but have opted out of Schengen, preferring to operate a system of Common Travel Area border controls with the EU. Iceland and Norway are part of the Nordic Passport Union and are therefore classified as “states associated with the Schengen activities of the EU”, although they are not actually EU members. Switzerland has similarly participated in Schengen since 2008, and on 19 December, 2011, Liechtenstein joined the Schengen Area. Other de facto members of the Schengen Area include three European microstates — Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City. They have semi-open or open borders with neighbouring countries which are Schengen members.
Bulgaria*, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania* are the remaining EU members and once compliance is met, they will also join the Schengen Area. They need to meet the Schengen standards of preparedness in the areas of personal data protection, visas, air borders and police cooperation and this requires EU experts visiting and assessing various workplaces and institutions in each country to assess their standards of compliance.
*As of April 2016, the European Commission believes that both Romania and Bulgaria have met all the requirements necessary and all that stands in the way of them joining the Schengen Area is a unanimous vote by the other EU Member States.
Schengen Visa History
The original Schengen Agreement was agreed and signed by half of the 10 EU member states at that time. Schengen came into being on 14 June 1985 and took its name from the nearby town of Schengen in Luxembourg as it was signed in neutral territory nearby. As all the EU member countries could not agree on the elimination of border controls, the Schengen Area had to be separately negotiated country by country for those within the European Community which existed at that time.
A later agreement proposed the abolishing of internal border controls and a Schengen visa policy was adopted in 1990. It was known as the Schengen Convention. It led to the adoption of the agreement and rules which remained entirely separate from the EU structure, with the resulting Schengen Area being established on 26 March 1995.
With the agreement of additional EU member states signing the Schengen Agreement, eventually it became part of EU procedures and was incorporated into EU law with the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, effective from 1999. As it is now part of European law, non-EU members are not allowed to participate in any changes of regulation or amendments to Schengen.
In the case of the UK and Ireland, the two countries have enjoyed an agreed Common Travel Area (CTA) since 1923. However, the UK was given a full opt-out from the Schengen Area as it was unwilling to abolish border controls with the remaining Schengen countries. Ireland has always appeared to favour being part of Schengen, but in order to maintain its open border with UK-governed Northern Ireland as part of the CTA, it has not signed the Schengen Treaty. The Nordic countries required that the non-EU members of Norway and Iceland be included in Schengen in order to reach a consensus, and this was agreed.
Recent Temporary Changes to Schengen
As a result of the on-going migration crisis and the terrorist attacks which took place in Paris in 2015, some Schengen member states have temporarily reintroduced controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states. For the latest information, it is advisable to research the up-to-the-minute rules regarding Temporary Reintroduction of Border Controls.