The Schengen Area and the Schengen Agreement

The creation of the Schengen Area and consequently the Schengen Agreement is a result of continuous attempts to abolish barriers between European countries. The European Union was created on November 1, 1993. The EU has 28 member states. These states are primarily located in Europe. Thereafter, the EU states tried to abolish boundaries for the movement of goods and easy travel.

This article has all the important information about the Schengen area. It contains details on how the Schengen area functions, management of its borders and the Schengen visa acquisition. Also, it contains information on the Schengen agreement.

What is the Schengen Area?

Schengen is a tiny village in Southeastern Luxembourg where the Schengen Agreement was signed. This is the town that banished borders between 26 European countries.

The Schengen Area is a group of 26 countries who have come together with the aim of abolishing their internal borders. Also, these countries focus on strengthening their external borders. Citizens from any Schengen country have freedom of movement within the area. For instance, a citizen from country A can move to B without a visa. Basically, Schengen countries abolished internal borders to:

  • Free and unrestricted movement of people
  • Common rules for external borders and
  • Strengthening common police cooperation and judicial system.

22 EU countries are in the Schengen Area. However, EU countries like the UK, Ireland are not part of Schengen. Also, countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania will soon join the Schengen area. Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are not EU countries but have signed agreements in association with the Schengen Agreement. These four countries are the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states.

The Schengen Agreement

The Schengen Agreement is a treaty that led to the creation of the Schengen Area. It was signed on 14 June 1985 in a small Southeastern town in Luxembourg called Schengen. As a result, the member countries abolished their internal borders.

Germany and France kickstarted the signing of the Schengen Agreement. To clarify, they took the initial step to abolish their borders on 17 June 1984. Thereafter, 5 of the 10 European Economic Community countries signed the treaty on 14 June 1985 in Schengen, Luxembourg. These 5 countries were: Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Thereafter, other countries joined the Schengen area. Italy, Spain, Portugal and Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein was the last to join in 2008.

The Schengen Agreement was supplemented by the Schengen Convention in 1990. It proposed:

  • the abolition of internal borders and controls
  • the operation of the SIS database
  • uniform visa issuance procedures
  • a cooperating structure between immigration and internal officers.

The Schengen Area

At the time of writing, the Schengen Area has 26 European countries. The citizens move freely from one member country to another. Other countries are free to join the Schengen Area. Any country willing to join must fulfil certain conditions. Below is a list of countries that make up the Schengen Area:

  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

Here is a map of the Schengen member states.

Schengen Area

EU countries with opt-outs

Most EU member countries signed the Schengen Agreement. Thereafter, the Schengen Area was created. However, 2 EU countries did not sign the agreement. These countries are:

  • The Republic of Ireland
  • The United Kingdom.

Furthermore, these two countries maintain free travel for their citizens. The United Kingdom consists of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. Also, the British Islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man are under the British crown. But, these islands are outside the EU. Also, they maintain free travel with Ireland and the UK. Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory. However, it is neither part of the EU nor the Schengen Area.

Future Schengen member states

Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are EU Countries but are not yet in the Schengen Area. However, these 4 countries are in the process of joining. Unlike the UK and Ireland, these countries want to join the Schengen Area. The delay in joining is due to some internal problems in these countries.

  1. Croatia: Apparently, the last country to join the EU. Croatia is in the process of joining Schengen.
  2. Romania and Bulgaria: These two countries joined the EU on January 1, 2007. However, their entry into Schengen has been delayed by corruption and organized crime. The Council of Ministers judges that these countries do not have the appropriate measures to fight corruption and organized crime.
  3. Cyprus: Cyprus has been in dispute since 1974. Greece and Turkey have been in conflict over the Island. The Greek military organized a coup d’état in the country in order to join the country with Greece. As a result, there have been armed conflicts on the island since then.

Part of Schengen member countries that are not part of Schengen

Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway have certain territories that are not part of Schengen. These territories are overseas departments owned by these countries. Some of them are part of the EU while others are not. However, none of them is part of the Schengen.


The Faroe Islands and Greenland are under Denmark. These Danish territories are neither part of Schengen nor the European Union.


The following French territories are neither part of the European Union nor Schengen Area:

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

On the other hand, the following French overseas departments are part of the EU, but are not in Schengen:

  • The whole overseas area of Saint Martin
  • Mayotte and Réunion
  • French Guiana
  • Guadaloupe
  • Martinique

The Netherlands

The following Caribbean Dutch territories are outside the Schengen Area:

  1. Aruba
  2. Curacao
  3. Sint Maarten
  4. BES Islands – Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba.

Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten are autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On the other hand, the BES Islands are special municipalities within the Netherlands.


Svalbard is a Norwegian territory. It has a special status under international law. This territory is neither part of the European Union nor the Schengen Area.

Schengen Area Ministates

The European microstates or European ministates are a set of very small sovereign states in Europe. These are the six smallest states in Europe by area. They include Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. Also, 4 of these states are monarchies (Andora, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and Vatican City). The Vatican City is a papacy, while the other 3 are principalities.

Liechtenstein is part of the Schengen Area. Similarly, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City keep an open border with one of the Schengen states.

Monaco has an open border with France. San Marino has an open border with Italy. Similarly, Vatican City has an open border with Italy. On the other hand, Andorra maintains border control with France and Spain. However, travellers can enter Andorra if they have the Schengen multiple-entry visa.

How the Schengen Area functions

There are rules and laws that regulate security and travelling within the Schengen Area. There are equally laws and rules for every other aspect. Below is a list of the ground features of the Schengen Area:

  1. Schengen states are working together for the elimination of external borders. They have done this by eliminating internal borders.
  2. Travellers are only checked when entering the Schengen Area.
  3. Schengen countries respect the same rules for non-Schengen citizens seeking to enter Schengen. This goes the same for asylum seekers.
  4. Schengen members are responsible for enabling the fluid flow of road traffic by eliminating all obstacles.
  5. Schengen citizens can move from one member country to another without a permit. However, they have to register their address when they enter a new member country.

Schengen Information System (SIS)

Schengen countries use technology for the proper functioning of the Area. They have established security and information systems for the proper operation of the area.

The SIS is an information system put in place to help member states in cooperation and law enforcement. It permits authorities like the police to enter and consult alerts in some categories of missing or wanted persons. The system was put in place for:

  • Law enforcement cooperation
  • Cooperation on Vehicle registration
  • Border control cooperation.

Visa Information System (VIS)

The Visa Information System (VIS) is an information system put in place to collect, process and share information among Schengen member countries. That is to say, it facilitates the sharing of information between member states.

These are the uses of the VIS. The VIS

  • enhances security
  • facilitates the issuance of visas
  • fights abuses and protects travellers
  • facilitates border checks. Therefore border guards can verify the identity of all those entering the area.
  • helps with asylum applications. The VIS makes it easier to decide which state is responsible for going through an asylum application.

What is a Schengen Visa?

This is a document attached to a traveller’s passport when it is being issued. The Schengen Visa permits its holder to travel freely to any of the 26 Schengen member countries. The holder needs to present the visa before entering the Schengen Area. Once in Schengen, the holder can travel to any member country without being asked the Schengen visa.

There are many kinds of Schengen visas. Also, a traveller has to gather all required documents, apply for an interview and any Schengen member embassy, and pay the visa fee. Below is a list of the types of visas:

Similarly, you can apply for a Schengen visa depending on the number of times one needs to enter Schengen.

  • Single-entry visa – The holder can enter Schengen states only once
  • Double-entry visa – The holder can return once, after leaving the Schengen Area
  • Multiple-entry visa – Holder can enter as many times as they wish within a period of 3 or 5 years.

Which countries can I visit with a Schengen visa?

Also, there are other countries out the Schengen Area that you can visit with a Schengen visa. They are not part of the 26 Schengen countries. Some countries allow multiple-entry Schengen visa holders to travel enter their territories for a limited period, say 14 days.

Below is a list of non-Schengen countries you can visit with a Schengen visa:

  1. Albania
  2. Antigua and Barbuda
  3. Belarus
  4. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Colombia
  7. Croatia
  8. Cyprus
  9. Georgia
  10. Gibraltar
  11. Kosovo
  12. Macedonia
  13. Montenegro
  14. Romania
  15. Sao Tome and Principe
  16. Serbia
  17. Turkey

Who needs a Schengen Visa?

Citizens from the Schengen Area are free to move to other Schengen countries without a visa. However, the citizens of non-Schengen states are required to get a Schengen visa before having the freedom to move. On the other hand, there are some non-Schengen countries whose citizens are free to enter Schengen without any visa.

Generally, if you do not need a German visa to enter Germany, then you do not need a Schengen visa to travel to other Schengen countries.

The validity of a Schengen visa

The validity of the Schengen visa is the time the holder of the visa is required to stay in the country. The German embassy in the home country is responsible to specify the validity of the visa. The validity may be shorter or longer than required. The validity of the visa depends on the consular officer’s judgement of your application. Some visa types have a longer validity period than others.

The Schengen visa specifies the first day the traveller may enter the Schengen Area. Also, it specifies the last day the traveller must leave the Schengen Area. In other words, it tells the number of days you are permitted to stay in the country.

Most noteworthy is that the number of days required to stay in Schengen is usually shorter than the validity of the visa. Any traveller who exceeds their validity period or the number of days to stay in Schengen is subject to repatriation or ban.

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