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Schengen Area – The World’s Largest Visa Free Zone

Schengen Area signifies a zone where 27 European countries abolished their internal borders, for the free and unrestricted movement of people, in harmony with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality by strengthening the common judicial system and police cooperation.

Schengen Area covers most of the EU countries, except Ireland, and the countries that are soon to be part of the Schengen Area: Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. Although not members of the EU, countries like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein are also part of the Schengen zone.

Schengen Area Countries

Schengen Area – The World’s Largest Visa Free Zone

The 27 Schengen countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Currently, the Schengen Area consists of 27 member countries. All of these countries are located in Europe, from which:

  • 23 members fully implement the Schengen acquis,
  • Four of them – members of the EFTA, implement Schengen acquis through specific agreements related to the Schengen agreement.
  • Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein are associate members of the Schengen Area but are not members of the EU. They are part of the EFTA and implement the Schengen acquis through specific agreements related to the Schengen agreement.
  • Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City have opened their borders but are not members of the visa-free zone.
  • The Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands are special members of the EU and part of the Schengen Zone, even though they are located outside the European continent.
  • There are four more EU members that have not joined the Schengen zone: Ireland – which still maintains opt-outs, and Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus – which are seeking to join soon.

The external borders of the Schengen Zone stretch for a distance of 50,000 km, with 80% being water and the remaining 20% being land. This area includes hundreds of airports and maritime ports, numerous land crossing points, an area of 4,368,693 km2, and a population of 423,264,262 citizens.

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Information for Schengen Countries

A holder of a Uniform Schengen visa can travel to all 27 member countries of the Schengen Area:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Austria

One of the richest countries in the world by per capita GDP terms, Austria has an area of 83,871 km2 and is inhabited by 8,712,137 residents. The country signed the Schengen agreement on 28 April 1995. However, it started its implementation two years later, on 1 December 1997.

Austria is located in central Europe and is bordered by 8 countries, more than most of the other European countries. Its capital, Vienna, remains one of the top European destinations for travellers.

Belgium

Belgium is one of the five first countries that signed the Schengen agreement on 14 June 1985 and started its implementation on 26 March 1995. It is a small and densely populated country, with an area of 30,528 km2 and a number of 11,358,379 residents.

Located in Western Europe, the country borders France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg. Its capital, Brussels, is the European Union’s administrative centre, often called the EU’s capital city.

Czech Republic

Shortly known as Czechia, the country was founded as late as 1993, with the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia. The central European country has an area of 78,866 km2 and is bordered by Germany to the west, Austria to the south, Slovakia to the east and Poland to the northeast.

It has a population of 10,610,947, 64.3% of which are Czechs, while the rest are Slovaks, Moravians, Ukrainians and others. The country has a considerable income from tourism, with Prague as the fifth most visited city in the old continent.

The Czech Republic signed the Schengen agreement on 16 April 2003 and started its implementation years later, on 21 December 2007.

Croatia

Croatia is the latest EU country to join the Schengen Area. It became an official member on 1 January 2023.

Croatia is located in Central and Southeast Europe. It has a total area of 56,594 km2 and a population of 4,076,246. It is bordered by Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the north, Serbia to the northeast, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southeast, Montenegro to the south, and the Adriatic Sea to the southwest. Croatia is a member of the European Union and the Council of Europe.

Croatia is known for its beautiful coastline along the Adriatic Sea, with over 1,000 islands and islets. Some of its popular tourist destinations include the city of Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes National Park, and the islands of Hvar and Krk. Croatia has a rich cultural heritage, with many ancient ruins, medieval castles and churches, and historic cities to explore.

Since its accession to the EU in 2013, Croatia has applied parts of the Schengen acquis, including those related to external border controls, police cooperation, and the use of the Schengen Information System, and as of 1 January 2023, Croatia has started to issue Schengen visas and can make full use of the SIS.

Denmark

Denmark is the southernmost country of the Scandinavian countries. It has an area of 43,094 km2 and is located in the southwest of Sweden and south of Norway. Whereas, to the south, it is bordered by Germany.

The Danish government signed the Schengen agreement on December 19, 1996, and started its implementation on 25 March 2001. However, Denmark is currently one of the six Schengen countries with reintroduced border checks due to the security situation in Europe and threats resulting from the continuous significant secondary movements.

The Nordic country has a population of 5,785,864 residents, with one of the highest living standards in Europe and the world.

Estonia

The northern European Republic of Estonia is bordered to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia, to the north by the Gulf of Finland and to the east by Lake Peipus and Russia. With an area of 45,338 km2 and 1,312,442 residents, it is one of Europe’s least crowded countries. This flatland country also has 2,222 islands and islets in the Baltic Sea.

Throughout the centuries, the territorial area of today’s Estonia has been ruled by the Danish, the Swedish and recently by the Soviet Union. Its government signed the Schengen agreement on 16 April 2003 and started its implementation on 21 December 2007.

Finland

Officially known as the Republic of Finland, the Nordic country is bordered by Norway to the north, Sweden to the northwest, and Russia to the east. It is famous for its educational system, and for being one of the safest and most eco-friendly countries on earth. Its 5,503,132 residents populate the happiest country in the world.

Finland has an area of 338,145 km2. It signed the Schengen agreement on 19 December 1996 and started its implementation on 25 March 2001.

France

The most visited European country, France, is not all about the Eiffel Tower. Known for its fine wine, sheer diversity, heritage sites and luxury skiing resorts, the country lured 85.7 million foreign tourists in 2013, the highest number ever.

The 551,695 km2 country borders eight European countries: Belgium and Luxembourg in the northeast, Germany and Switzerland in the east, Italy and Monaco in the southeast, and Andorra and Spain in the south and southwest.

It is home to 65,598,772 residents, who can move freely within the Schengen Area since the country is one of the five founding countries of the Schengen Zone on 14 June 1985. The implementation of the agreement in France started on 26 March 1995.

Germany

The land of invention and innovation and the second most visited Schengen country, Germany, consists of an area of 357,386km2 and 16 constituent states. The most populous EU member is also the European country that borders most other countries.

It is located in Western and Central Europe, with Denmark bordering to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east. It has Austria to the southeast, Switzerland to the south-southwest, France, Luxembourg and Belgium lie to the west, and the Netherlands to the northwest.

The German passport is amongst the top three most powerful passports in the world, since its 84,386,549 residents can visit 188 countries visa-free.

Germany is one of the five founding countries of the Schengen agreement, signed on 14 June 1985. It started its implementation ten years later on 26 March 1995.

Greece

The cradle of Western civilization, Greece, is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Hellenic Republic is considered the birthplace of democracy, western literature, historiography, political science, Olympic games, etc.

Despite the fact that its borders have changed throughout the year, today, Greece shares land borders with Albania in the northwest, North Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey in the northeast. Despite that Greece signed the Schengen agreement on 6 November 1992 and started its implementation on 1 January 2000, none of its neighbours has joined the area yet.

The country has an area of 131,990 km2 and 11,183,716 residents. Greece has a unique cultural heritage, beautiful islands and beaches, which makes it a favourite destination for many travellers.

Hungary

Located in Central Europe, Hungary has an area of 93,030 km2 and is home to 9,753,281 residents. It shares land borders with Slovakia in the north, Ukraine in the northeast, Austria in the northwest, Romania in the east, Serbia in the south, Croatia in the southwest, and Slovenia in the west.

A high number of travelers visit the country each year. In 2017, it received 263,940 visa applications. When it comes to tourism, Hungary is one of the main medical tourism destinations in Europe. In dental tourism alone, it has a share of 42% in Europe and 21% worldwide.

It signed the Schengen agreement on 16 April 2003 and started its implementation on 21 December 2007.

Iceland

The Nordic island country is located in the North Atlantic and is volcanically and geologically active. It has a population of 348,580, two-thirds of which reside in the capital of Reykjavik and the surrounding area. The country has an area of 103,000 km2.

Ecotourism and whale-watching are amongst the top tourist attractions in Iceland. However, in 2017, the country received 7,610 visa applications, the least among all other states.

It first signed the Schengen Agreement on 19 December 1996.  It signed a second agreement, which replaced the first, on 18 May 1999 following the incorporation of the agreement into EU law by the Treaty of Amsterdam. Iceland finally started the implementation of the agreement on 25 March 2001.

Italy

The sovereign state of the Italian Republic is located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. It has an area of 301,318 km2 and is bordered by France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino, and Vatican City. With 59,429,938 residents, it is the fourth most populous EU member.

Italy is the successor of what was known as the enormous Roman Empire, which left behind a rich history and a lot of cultural attractions, which have affected Italy to become one of the top destinations in Europe. Italy is also the country that gave the world some of the most famous scholars, artists, and polymaths as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Galileo, and Machiavelli.

It started the implementation of the Schengen agreement on 26 October 1997 after having signed it previously on 27 November 1990.

Latvia

The Republic of Latvia shares borders with Estonia in the northern region, Lithuania in the south, to the east is Russia, and Belarus to the southeast. The 64,589km2 country has a population of 1,970,530 inhabitants.

Latvia is currently a member of the European Union, NATO, the Council of Europe, the United Nations, CBSS, the IMF, NB8, NIB, OECD, OSCE, and WTO. It signed the Schengen agreement on 16 April 2003 and started its implementation on 21 December 2007, thus becoming part of the European borderless territory.

Its capital, Riga is known for its architecture, multicultural heritage, and Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Riga was named the European Capital of Culture for 2014.

Liechtenstein

The principality of Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked German-speaking microstate in Central Europe. It has an area of only 160 km2 and 37,666 residents, which makes it the fourth smallest European country.

Liechtenstein shares borders with Switzerland to the west and south, and Austria to the east and north. The country is mainly mountainous, thus an alluring winter sports destination.

It is the last country that joined the border-free Schengen area after it signed the agreement io

Lithuania

The 65,300 km2 country borders Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast (a Russian exclave) to the southwest. It has a population of 2,908,249 residents and uses EUR as its currency.

Lithuanian is one of the oldest languages in the world today. And along with Latvian, it is also one of only two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.

Lithuania signed the Schengen agreement on 16 April 2003 and started its implementation later on 21 December 2007.

In 2017, Lithuania received 413,966 visa applications, which is more than countries like Austria, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, or Norway. There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Lithuania.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a country of 2,586 km2 and has a population of 575,747 residents. It is one of the founding states of the Schengen agreement, which was signed on 14 June 1985 in the village of Schengen in Luxembourg. Its capital, Luxembourg City, is one of the three official capitals of the European Union.

Ranked by its GDP, Luxembourg is the second richest country in the world. It has the highest minimum wage in the EU while also being one of the safest countries in the world.

The country’s motto is ‘mir wëllebleiwewatmirsinn’, which means ‘we want to remain what we are.

Malta

The Southern European island country consists of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, with an area of 316 km2 and a population of 429,362 residents.

Despite its small area, the country received a number of 37,881 visa applications in 2017. In tourism terms, it is mostly known for its sun, sea and beaches. Some of its most alluring destinations for travellers are also ancient wonders as the 5,000 years old Hagar Qim or the 4,000 years old Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.

Malta signed the Agreement on 16 April 2003 and started its implementation on 21 December 2007.

Netherlands

Mostly known for the colourful tulips, numerous windmills and delicious cheese, the Netherlands consists of twelve provinces. The country borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest. It has an area of 41,526 km2 and 16,987,330 residents.

It is a founding member of the EU, Eurozone, G10, NATO, OECD, and WTO. Moreover, it is one of the five founding states of the Schengen agreement, signed on 14 June 1985.

The largest port in Europe and the world’s largest port outside Asia, the Port of Rotterdam, is located in the Netherlands. This Western European country has the highest English proficiency in the world and it is the world’s second-biggest beer exporter, after Mexico.

Norway

The land of the midnight sun, Norway, has an area of 385,155 km2. It has a population of 5,254,694 residents known as Norwegians. It is bordered by Finland and Russia to the northeast, and the Skagerrak Strait to the south, with Denmark on the other side.

The country attracts visitors mainly because of its stunning fjords and its Viking heritage. In 2017, Norwegian embassies around the world received 196,082 visa applications.

Norway signed the Schengen Agreement on 19 December 1996. A second agreement, which replaced the first, was signed on 18 May 1999 following the agreement’s incorporation into EU law with the Treaty of Amsterdam. Norway started the implementation of the agreement on 25 March 2001.

It is known as the land of the midnight sun because certain areas of the country get 24 hours of sunlight for part of the summer.

Poland

Poland is an EU country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions and has an area of 312,683 km2. Home to 38,224,410 residents, the country shares borderlands with Germany, Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Belarus.

Its most famous and visited cities are Warsaw, the medieval town of Malbork, Lublin, Torun, Krakow and Poznan. Poland is also known for the Tatra National Park and the Bialowieza Forest. Figures show that most of the visitors are from Germany, followed by Britons and Russians.

The country signed the agreement on 16 April 2003 and started its implementation in late 2007.

Portugal

The westernmost European country, Portugal, shares borderland only with Spain, to the north and east. It has an area of 92,391 km2 and 10,371,627 residents.

It is the oldest state on the Iberian Peninsula and one of the oldest in Europe. Known for football, beautiful beaches and historic sites, the country manages to allure many visitors throughout the whole year. Most visited Portuguese spots are the capital of Lisbon, the subtropical island of Madeira, the second-largest city – Porto, the small fishing village of Ericeira, and Óbidos – which is known for its many medieval castles.

Portugal signed the Schengen agreement alongside its only neighbour Spain, on 25 June 1991 and started its implementation on 26 March 1995.

Slovakia

A landlocked country in Central Europe, Slovakia has a territory of 49,037 km2. Its 5,444,218 residents are known as Slovak who speak the Slovak language. The country shares borders in the north with Poland, Ukraine to the east, the Czech Republic to the west, Hungary to the south, and Austria to the southwest.

Slovakia became an independent country after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia on 1 January 1993. Ten years later, on 16 April 2003, it signed the Schengen agreement. On 21 December 2007, it started the execution of this convention.

Slovakia has the world’s highest number of castles and chateaux per capita. The Spiš Castle, which is part of the UNESCO List of World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage, is one of the most famous.

Slovenia

Slovenia has a territory of 20,273 km2 and a population of 2,077,862. It is bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast, Croatia to the southeast,

After Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Malta, Slovenia is the smallest Schengen state. The country joined the Schengen Area on 16 April 2003 and started the full implementation of the convention four years later on 21 December 2007.

Slovenia is known for the scenic Lake Bled, the Postojna Cave, Triglav National Park and its many castles.

Spain

Spain has an area of 510,000 km2 and shares land borders in the north and northeast with France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest with Portugal. It is the second-largest country in the EU bloc, with a population of 46,347,576 residents.

The Spanish cities, Madrid and Barcelona, are some of the cities that allure most foreign visitors in Europe. Bullfights, La Tomatina festival and Ibiza’s Parties are among the best-known and attended events in Spain.

Spain signed the agreement alongside Portugal on 25 June 1991, and both of them started their implementation on 26 March 1995.

Sweden

Sweden is a Scandinavian country located in Northern Europe. It has an area of 449,964 km2 and shares land borders with Norway and Finland. The country connects with Denmark by a bridge tunnel across the Öresund, a strait at the Swedish-Danish border. Its 9,837,533 residents are known as Swedish or Swedes.

Sweden signed the agreement on 09 December 1996 and started implementing it later on 25 March 2001.

Switzerland

The non-EU country, Switzerland, became part of the Schengen area after it signed the agreement on 26 October 2004 and started its implementation on 12 December 2008.

The country is landlocked between Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. It has an area of 41,285 km and four national languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh.

Switzerland has one of the most powerful European economies and its 8,401,739 citizens have one of the highest living standards in the world.

The Essential Features of The Schengen Zone

The abolition of borders between European countries has resulted in:

  1. Nationals of any world country, when in the Schengen Area, to liberally cross the internal borders of the state members, free from border checks
  2. Shared standards for crossing the external borders
  3. Harmonized entry and short-stay visa conditions for all state members
  4. Improved collaboration between the police of member countries
  5. Privileged judicial collaboration between members, including faster extradition of criminals, and easier relocation for the execution of criminal verdicts
  6. An advanced shared database, assisting member countries to quickly exchange information about people and goods between them, known as SIS
  7. Despite the extent of the freedom guaranteed by the Schengen Area, the police enjoy the authority to carry out checks at internal borders and in border areas, in specific circumstances, but this is not considered a border check. The police can require information from people at internal borders about their stay in Schengen Zone and additional associated questions
  8. If lacking to have complete internal security due to a serious threat, a member country can temporarily reintroduce border checks at its internal borders, but for not more than 30 days

The Criteria to Become a Schengen Member Country

Many European countries possess the determination to be part of or to join the Schengen Area, but not all essentially can do this instantly. This for the fact that there are some pre-conditions or criteria that countries willing to join must have the capacity, or need further preparation, to deal with, such as:

  • To be able, on behalf of other member countries, to control the external borders of the Area as well as to issue Uniform Schengen Visas
  • To possess the competence that, after the abolishment of border controls between member states, to capably collaborate with other member countries’ law enforcement agencies for a greater level of security
  • To be equipped in applying “Schengen Acquis” or rules for controlling land, sea and air borders, issuing short-stay visas, police collaboration as well as protection of personal data
  • To be ready to join and put in use the Schengen Information System (SIS)

*Note: Before joining the visa-free Area, the aspirant country is prone to a Schengen Evaluation. Afterwards, a member country undergoes a periodical evaluation to ensure the appropriate application of Schengen Acquis.

Which Are the Non-Schengen Countries in Europe?

The European countries that are not part of the Schengen zone are Albania, Andora, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus,  Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Ireland, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, The United Kingdom and Vatican City.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the UK part of the Schengen Area?


No. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen zone, and therefore you are not allowed to enter the UK with a Schengen visa.

UK residents might need to apply for a Schengen visa if they want to travel from the UK to other countries in the EU.

What is the Schengen Borders Agreement?


The Schengen Borders Agreement permits people to travel freely within the area if the traveller otherwise qualifies to enter the Schengen Zone by crossing an official external border during regular hours of operation and obtaining an entry stamp in the passport.

Am I able to travel within the Schengen Area with a residence permit?


The residence permit allows you to travel freely throughout the whole Schengen Area without any additional documents needed. The residency permit is stamped in your passport. However, you must notify the authorities if you intend to travel in and out of the Schengen space.

Can I travel to more than one member country with the same Schengen visa?


Yes, once you are issued the visa, you can travel within the Schengen Zone as long as you don’t exceed the timeframe granted your visa.

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