Visa policy of the Schengen Area

Schengen Area entry stamp issued at Munich Airport
Schengen Area exit stamp issued at Hook of Holland ferry terminal

The visa policy of the Schengen Area is set by the European Union and applies to the Schengen Area and to other EU member states except Ireland.[1] The visa policy allows nationals of certain countries to enter the Schengen Area via air, land or sea without a visa for stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period. Nationals of certain other countries are required to have a visa either upon arrival or in transit.

The Schengen Area consists of 22 EU member states and four non-EU countries that are members of EFTA: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, while EU members, are not yet part of the Schengen Area but, nonetheless, have a visa policy that is partially based on the Schengen acquis.[2]

Ireland has opted out of the Schengen Agreement and instead operates its own visa policy, as do certain overseas territories of Schengen member states.

Nationals of EU single market countries are not only visa-exempt but are legally entitled to enter and reside in each other's countries. Their right to freedom of movement in each other's countries can, however, be limited in a reserved number of situations, as prescribed by EU treaties.

Visa exemptions

Freedom of movement

Council of EuropeSchengen AreaEuropean Free Trade AssociationEuropean Economic AreaEurozoneEuropean UnionEuropean Union Customs UnionAgreement with EU to mint eurosGUAMCentral European Free Trade AgreementNordic CouncilBaltic AssemblyBeneluxVisegrád GroupCommon Travel AreaOrganization of the Black Sea Economic CooperationUnion StateSwitzerlandIcelandNorwayLiechtensteinSwedenDenmarkFinlandPolandCzech RepublicHungarySlovakiaGreeceEstoniaLatviaLithuaniaBelgiumNetherlandsLuxembourgItalyFranceSpainAustriaGermanyPortugalSloveniaMaltaCyprusIrelandUnited KingdomCroatiaRomaniaBulgariaTurkeyMonacoAndorraSan MarinoVatican CityGeorgiaUkraineAzerbaijanMoldovaArmeniaRussiaBelarusSerbiaAlbaniaMontenegroNorth MacedoniaBosnia and HerzegovinaKosovo (UNMIK)
A clickable Euler diagram showing the relationships between various multinational European organisations and agreements.

Temporary restriction on the entry of persons without the right of free movement for non-essential travel

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on 16 March 2020 the European Commission issued a recommendation to all EU and Schengen member states to introduce a temporary restriction on the entry of third-country nationals (i.e. travellers who are not EU/EEA/Swiss/British citizens and family members with the right of free movement) to the Schengen Area for non-essential travel for an initial period of 30 days (with the possible prolongation of this period to be assessed based on further developments). However, third-country nationals who are holders of long-term visas or residence permits or are family members of EU/EEA/Swiss/British citizens are exempt from this restriction. Further, third-country nationals 'with an essential function or need' (such as healthcare workers, transport personnel, aid workers, military personnel, seasonal agricultural workers), passengers in transit, those travelling 'for imperative family reasons' and those 'in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons' are exempt from this restriction. Nevertheless, the European Commission re-iterated that 'coordinated and reinforced health checks' should be carried out on all travellers who are permitted to enter the EU and Schengen Area.[12] All EU (except Ireland) and Schengen member states are now applying this travel restriction.[13]

Further, on 30 March 2020, the European Commission published 'Guidance on the implementation of the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, on the facilitation of transit arrangements for the repatriation of EU citizens, and on the effects on visa policy' in order to provide 'advice and practical instructions'. The Guidance states that member states are permitted to take measures (such as requiring non-nationals to undergo a period of self-isolation if arriving from a territory affected by COVID-19), provided that the same requirements is imposed on its own nationals. The Guidance also clarifies that citizens of the European micro-states (Andorra, the Holy See, Monaco and San Marino) are exempt from the temporary restriction on the entry of third-country nationals to the European Union and the Schengen Area for non-essential travel. In addition, citizens of Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey should be permitted entry to the European Union and the Schengen Area if they are stranded abroad in order to facilitate repatriation to their country of origin.[14]

Third-country nationals (not covered by one of the exemptions from the temporary restriction of entry for non-essential reasons) who seek to enter the Schengen Area will be refused entry at the external border crossing point and will receive a refusal of entry form (with the reason of refusal marked as "I", i.e. a threat to public health), as well a passport stamp cancelled by an indelible cross in black ink and the letter "I" on the right hand side.[14]

Third-country nationals (including 'Annex II' visa-exempt nationals) who are 'compelled' to stay beyond their original period of stay (in most cases, 90 days) may be issued a national long-term visa or temporary residence permit. Schengen member states are also encouraged to waive any administrative sanctions or penalties on third-country nationals who overstay due to travel restrictions hindering their ability to leave the Schengen Area.[14]

On 8 April 2020, the European Commission invited EU and Schengen member states to extend the restriction on the entry of third-country nationals for non-essential travel for a further period of 30 days until 15 May 2020.[15] On 8 May 2020, the European Commission again invited member states to extend the restriction for another 30 days until 15 June 2020.[16] On 11 June 2020, the European Commission recommended member states to prolong the restriction on the entry of third-country nationals for non-essential travel until 30 June 2020.[17]

Nationals of 'Annex II' countries and territories (visa waiver countries)

Since 2001, the European Union has issued a list of countries whose nationals need visas (Annex I) and a list of those who do not (Annex II).[18] The two lists are also adopted by Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, even though the four countries are not yet part of the Schengen Area.[19][20][21][22]

Nationals of the following 63 countries and territories holding ordinary passports may enter the Schengen Area, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania without a visa, for short stays (usually 90 days within a 180-day period):[23]

Residents and holders of visas of Schengen states

Holders of a long-stay visa or residence permit issued by a Schengen state or Monaco may also travel to other Schengen states, without an additional visa, for a stay of up to 90 days in any 180-day period.[64][65][66] Short-stay visas issued by a Schengen state are also valid for all other Schengen states unless marked otherwise.[64]

Holders of a visa (even if limited to a specific country) or residence permit issued by a Schengen state, Monaco, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus or Romania may also travel to Bulgaria,[19] Croatia,[20] Cyprus and Romania[22] without an additional visa, for a stay of up to 90 days in any 180-day period (except nationals of Turkey and Azerbaijan travelling to Cyprus, who still need a Cypriot visa).[21] However, visas and residence permits issued by Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus or Romania are not valid for travel to the Schengen Area.[67]

Family members of EU single market nationals

Individuals of any nationality who are family members of EU single market nationals and are in possession of a residence card indicating their status are exempt from the requirement to hold a visa when entering the EU single market when they are accompanying their EU single market family member or are seeking to join them.[68]

School pupils resident in the EU single market or Annex II countries and territories

Refugees and stateless people resident in Ireland or Annex II countries and territories

Holders of local border traffic permits

Currently the local border traffic regulation agreements exist with Belarus (with Latvia since 2011), Moldova (with Romania since 2010), Russia (with Norway since 2012, with Latvia since 2013 and Poland 2012-20161) and Ukraine (with Hungary and Slovakia since 2008, Poland since 2009 and Romania since 2015). Agreement between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina is pending ratification but is applied on provisional basis.[77]

Holders of non-ordinary passports

There are no common visa lists for holders of diplomatic, service and other official passports. States may still maintain different policies on these.[63]

Airport transit

In general, a passenger who transits through one single airport in the Schengen Area, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania while remaining airside in the international transit area less than one day will not require a visa (transit privilege). This only applies if the transfer is possible without leaving the international transit area, which depends on the connecting flight and airport layout.[83]

However, on 5 April 2010, common visa requirements for airport transit were introduced by the European Union.[84] Nationals of the following 12 countries are required to hold an airport transit visa (ATV) when transiting through any airport in the Schengen Area, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus or Romania, even if they remain airside:[85]

However, nationals of the above countries are exempt from airport transit visas if they hold a visa or residence permit issued by an EU single market country, Andorra, Canada, Japan, Monaco, San Marino or the United States, are family members of an EU single market national, hold a diplomatic passport, or are flight crew members.[86]

Additionally, individual Schengen countries can impose airport transit visa requirements for nationals of other countries in urgent cases of mass influx of illegal immigrants.[87] For example, nationals of Syria need ATVs for many but not all Schengen countries.


Schengen visa issued by Germany

Schengen visas can be issued by any member state of the Schengen Area. Travellers must apply to the embassy or consulate of the country which they intend to visit. In cases of travellers visiting multiple countries in the Schengen Area, travellers must apply to their main destination's embassy or consulate.[94] If the main destination cannot be determined, the traveller should apply for the visa at the embassy of the Schengen member state of first entry.[94][95] Often, external service providers are contracted by certain diplomatic missions to process, collect and return visa applications.

Schengen visa applications may not be submitted more than six months prior to the proposed date of entry into the Schengen Area.[96] All countries' embassies may require applicants to provide biometric identifiers (ten fingerprints and a digital photograph) as part of the visa application process to be stored on the Visa Information System (VIS). Biometric identifiers are not collected from children under the age of 12.[97] Travellers applying for a Schengen visa for the first time must apply in person and are subject to an interview by the consular officers. If biometric identifiers have been provided within the past 59 months, the applicant may not be required to provide biometric identifiers again. Providing that the visa application is admissible and there are no issues with the application, a decision must be given within 15 calendar days of the date on which the application was lodged.[98]

The standard application fee for a Schengen visa is EUR 80. There is a reduced application fee of EUR 40 for children aged 6 to 12. The visa application fee may be waived or reduced in order to 'promote cultural or sporting interests, interests in the field of foreign policy, development policy and other areas of vital public interest, or for humanitarian reasons or because of international obligations'. Where an application is submitted to an external service provider, an additional service fee may have to be paid.[99]

Schengen visas are valid for any country in the Schengen Area unless marked otherwise.[64] Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania also accept Schengen visas (even if limited to a specific country), as well as visas issued by each other, for stays of up to 90 days in a 180-day period (except for nationals of Turkey and Azerbaijan travelling to Cyprus).[19][20][21][22] However, visas issued by Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus or Romania are not valid for travel to the Schengen Area.[67]

The Schengen Convention and Schengen Borders Code permit member states to require third-country nationals to report their presence to a police station within 3 working days of crossing an internal border.[100] This requirement varies by country and can usually be performed by hotels instead.

Visa facilitation agreements

The EU has concluded visa facilitation agreements with several countries, which allow facilitated procedures for issuing visas for both EU citizens and nationals of partner countries. The facilitated procedures include faster visa processing times, reduced or no fees, and reduced list of supporting documents.[101] These agreements are also linked to readmission agreements that allow the return of people irregularly residing in the EU.[102]

At the border

In exceptional cases, single-entry Schengen visas valid for up to 15 days may be issued on arrival at the border. These visas are reserved for individuals who can prove that they were unable to apply for a visa in advance due to time constraints arising out of 'unforeseeable' and 'imperative' reasons as long as they fulfil the regular criteria for the issuing of a Schengen visa.[105] However, if the individual requesting a Schengen visa at the border falls within a category of people for which it is necessary to consult one or more of the central authorities of other Schengen States, they may only be issued a visa at the border in exceptional cases on humanitarian grounds, on grounds of national interest or on account of international obligations (such as the death or sudden serious illness of a close relative or of another close person).[106] In 2017, about 89,000 Schengen visas were issued to travellers on arrival at the border.[107] People trying this way to travel to the Schengen Area can be denied boarding by the airline because of the carrier's responsibility, which penalises airlines if they carry passengers who do not have the correct documentation.

Visas with limited territorial validity

In exceptional cases, Schengen states may issue visas with limited territorial validity (LTV), either specifically naming the state(s) for which it is valid or, inversely, the state(s) for which it is not valid. Holders of LTV visas are only permitted to travel to Schengen states for which it is valid, as well as to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania.[19][20][21][22]

According to the Schengen Visa Code, member states may issue LTV visas when a consulate deems it justifiable to overcome the three-month limitation in six months, when a member state considers it necessary due to pressing circumstances to derogate from entry conditions as set by Schengen Borders Code, to overcome objections of other member states, or in cases of urgency.[108]

Unrecognised travel documents

Schengen visas are only issued on travel documents of UN member states, Kosovo, Palestine, Taiwan, Vatican City, the Order of Malta, and certain international organisations (Council of Europe, EU, NATO, Red Cross, UN).[109][110][111] Belgium and France also accept the passport of Somaliland.[112] Passports of Abkhazia, Artsakh, Northern Cyprus, South Ossetia, Transnistria and Western Sahara are not accepted.[113]


Most Schengen visas were issued to applicants located in the countries listed below (listed if more than 100,000 visas issued in most recent year).[107][114][115][116] Applicants were not necessarily nationals of these countries.

Future changes

Visa exemptions

  •  Armenia – In 2018, EU and Armenian officials announced plans for visa liberalisation following the signing of a new Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement.[117]
  •  Ecuador – In 2018, Spain submitted a request for visa exemption for nationals of Ecuador.[118]
  •  Indonesia – In 2015, EU and Indonesian officials started discussing possibilities for nationals of Indonesia to obtain visa-free access to the Schengen Area.[119][120][121][122][123][124][125][126][127][128][129][130][131]
  •  Kosovo – In 2018, an EU report concluded that Kosovo had met all of the conditions required for visa liberalisation.[132]
  •  Nauru – In 2012, the EU proposed introducing visa-free travel for nationals of several island countries,[133] all of which concluded the required agreements by 2016 except Nauru.
  •  Russia – In 2014, the EU suspended talks for visa-free travel with Russia as a result of the situation in Ukraine,[134] but from 2016 a number of EU politicians and officials stated that they would be interested in restarting the process.[135][136][137][138][139][140][141][142][143]
  •  Turkey – In 2016, the EU presented a legislative proposal to include Turkey in the list of countries whose nationals are exempt from visas for short stays in the Schengen Area.[144]

Entry/Exit System

In 2017, the EU adopted a regulation to establish an Entry/Exit System (EES) to record electronically the entry and exit of third-country nationals to and from the Schengen Area in a central database, replacing the manual stamping of passports. The goals are to increase automation of border control and to identify overstayers.[145][146] As of March 2020, EES is expected to enter into operation in the first quarter of 2022.[147][148]

The EU also plans to establish a Registered Traveller Programme that would allow pre-screened travellers easier access.[149]


In 2018, the EU approved regulations to establish a system for electronic authorisation of visa-exempt visitors, named ETIAS[150] (European Travel Information and Authorisation System).[151] It is similar to other electronic travel authorisation systems implemented by Australia, United States, Canada, New Zealand and United Kingdom. The ETIAS travel authorization will be required for travel to the Schengen Area, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, and it is expected the ETIAS visa waiver to enter into operation at the end of 2022,[148][152][153] but ETIAS travel authorization will not be mandatory until 2023. A 6-month grace period is planned to allow eligible travellers to become familiarized with the new regulation.[154] Moreover, the ETIAS travel authorization will not be needed to visit Ireland.[155]

ETIAS will be required from nationals of visa-exempt third countries (Annex II) except the European microstates of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. ETIAS will also be required from family members of EU single market nationals not holding a residence card indicating that status. However, it will not be required from family members holding such a card, from holders of visas, residence permits, local border traffic permits, refugee or stateless travel documents issued by an EU single market country, or from crew members or holders of diplomatic or official passports.

Prospective visitors will need to complete an online application, and a €7 fee will be required from those between ages 18 and 70. The system is expected to process the vast majority of applications automatically by searching in electronic databases and provide an immediate response, but in some cases it may take up to four days if manual processing is needed. If approved, the authorisation will be valid for three years, or until the expiration date of the travel document if earlier.[152]


Visa requirements for European Union citizens
  European Single Market (freedom of movement)
  Visa-free access for all EU citizens
  Visa-free access for some EU citizens
  Visa on arrival for all EU citizens
  Visa on arrival for some EU citizens
  Electronic visa application

The EU requires that all Annex II countries and territories provide visa-free access for 90 days to nationals of all Schengen states and other EU countries implementing the common visa rules (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, but not Ireland). If an Annex II country is found to not provide full reciprocity, the EU may decide to suspend the visa exemption for certain categories or later all nationals of that country.[18]

Since the adoption of this policy, full reciprocity has been achieved with all Annex II countries except the United States, which still requires visas from nationals of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania.[156] In November 2014, the Bulgarian government announced that it would not ratify the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership unless the United States lifted visa requirements for its nationals.[157] Since the United States failed to lift the requirements, on 3 March 2017 the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling on the European Commission to revoke the visa-free travel for US nationals to the Schengen Area.[158]

Some Annex II countries and territories also impose minor restrictions on nationals of EU or Schengen states that are not considered a breach of reciprocity by the EU. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States require an electronic authorisation before travel by air or sea, similar to the EU's own planned ETIAS. Canada also requires a visa from nationals of Romania not holding electronic passports.[159] Israel requires a visa from nationals of Germany born before 1928, which is issued free of charge if they were not involved with the Nazi Party.[160][161][162] Montserrat requires an electronic visa from nationals of Croatia.[163]

Stays exceeding 90 days

In general, third-country nationals staying more than 90 days in the Schengen Area as a whole or in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus or Romania require either a long-stay visa for less than a year or a residence permit for longer periods.

Although long-stay visas issued by these countries have a uniform design, the procedures and conditions for issuing them are usually determined by each individual country. For example, some Schengen countries require applications for long-stay visas to be made in the applicant's home country, while other Schengen countries permit them after arrival. Some procedures may vary depending on the applicant's country as well.[164][165][166][167] In some situations, such as for study, the procedures and conditions for long-stay visas have been harmonised among all issuing states.[168][169] Each country is also free to establish its own conditions for residence permits.

Third-country nationals who are long-term residents of an EU or Schengen state (except Ireland and Denmark) may also acquire the right to move to and settle in another of these states without losing their legal status and social benefits.[170] The Van Der Elst visa rule allows third-country nationals employed in the EU single market to work temporarily in another EU single market country for the same employer under certain conditions.

Some third-country nationals are permitted to stay in the Schengen Area for more than 90 days without the need to apply for a long-stay visa. For example, France does not require nationals of the European microstates to apply for a long-stay visa.[171] Nationals of countries (such as Australia, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States) that had entered into visa waiver agreements with individual Schengen states before they implemented the Schengen agreement are permitted to stay for up to 90 days in each of those Schengen states without a long-stay visa (see the 'Rules for Annex II nationals' section above).

Means of subsistence

In addition to general requirements, Schengen states also set entry conditions for foreign nationals of countries outside the EU single market called the "reference amounts required for the crossing of the external border fixed by national authorities" regarding means of subsistence during their stay.[172][173]

Visa policies of Ireland and overseas territories

Ireland has an independent visa policy. It grants visa-free entry to all Schengen Annex II nationalities, except for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, East Timor, Georgia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Palau, Peru, Serbia, Ukraine and Venezuela. It also grants visa-free entry to several additional countries – Belize, Bolivia, Botswana, Eswatini, Fiji, Guyana, Lesotho, Maldives, Nauru and South Africa. Visas for Ireland and for the Schengen Area are not valid for each other.

In addition, Ireland as an EU member state maintains the Freedom of movement for workers in the European Union with the other European Union member states and also with the United Kingdom's Northern Ireland.[citation needed]

After the Brexit, The British overseas territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia still open borders with Cyprus and follows the visa policy of the Schengen Area, but requires permits for stays longer than 28 days per 12-month period.[189][190]

Overseas France and the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands have individual visa policies that are mostly aligned with the Schengen Area, with some exceptions regarding countries recently added to Annex II and some additions.

The Faroe Islands and Greenland have the same list of nationalities exempt from visas as the Schengen Area, and arrivals from the Schengen Area are not subject to border checks. However, Schengen visas are not valid there, so nationalities that are not exempt need separate visas for these territories. These regulations are due to a special agreement because Greenland and Faroe Islands are included in the travel solution within the framework of the Nordic Passport Union.[191][192]

Svalbard is an entirely visa-free zone. Those traveling to and from Svalbard must present a passports or national ID-card.[193] Travelers who have a visa requirement to enter mainland Norway/the Schengen area must have a Schengen visa if they travel via mainland Norway/the Schengen Area. This must be a double-entry visa so they can return to mainland Norway/the Schengen area.[194]

Visa policies of candidate and applicant states

Countries applying to join the European Union are obliged to adopt the EU's visa policy no later than three months before they formally join the Union.[195] Schengen countries give visa-free access to nationals of all European Union candidate and applicant states except Turkey.[196] Candidate states Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia maintain similar visa policies to the Schengen Area with some notable exceptions regarding countries that were added to the Annex II more recently and additional nationalities not listed in Schengen Annex II, while Turkey still requires visas from nationals of Cyprus. Bosnia and Herzegovina as an applicant country also has its visa policy mostly aligned with the Schengen Area.

Validity for other countries

Schengen visas that are valid for further travel are accepted as substitute visas for national visas in several other countries.

See also