Which Countries are in the Schengen Area?

April 4, 2024

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While most people know at least a little about the European Union, they might not be as familiar with the Schengen area. However, the area is one of the world’s most important zones and affects how people travel around Europe.

Whether or not you live in the Schengen area will affect what identification documents you need to enter a country and how long you can remain there. On a larger scale, the Schengen area also affects national economies and laws for countries within the European Union.

In this guide, we’ll look at the Schengen area member countries and which countries are in the process of joining the Schengen area. We’ll also look at what impact the rules and regulations in the area have on the member countries and what it means for nationals and non-nationals who travel within the zone.

What is the Schengen area?

The Schengen area is the largest free travel zone in the world. Member countries allow free travel without internal border checks (unless there are specific threats). The area also carries out harmonized controls across national borders. Member countries try to use a common judicial and police system to help fight criminality.

The project started in 1985 between five EU countries: France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Schengen Agreement and the Schengen Convention were signed in 1985 and 1990 in Schengen, a small village in Luxembourg. Since then, the area has grown to incorporate 27 countries.

80% of the borders in the Schengen area are water, and 20% is made up of land. The total length of the borders in the Schengen Zone is 50,000 kilometers (31,069 miles). This encompasses most EU countries.

Continue reading to discover which countries are in the Schengen area and what it means for tourism and business travel.

Which countries are in the Schengen area?

There are 27 countries in the Schengen area, 23 of which are in Europe and EU member states. The Schengen area covers 4 million square km (1.5 million square miles) and has a population of nearly 420 million people. Below is a complete list of the countries in the Schengen area:

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

Despite joining the EU in 2004, Cyprus has yet to implement the Schengen area scheme. This is due to the ongoing Cyprus dispute between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. The controls introduced by fully joining the Schengen area could create difficulties for Cypriots living on the Turkish side of the border.

In 2023, Cyprus joined the Schengen Information System (SIS). This system allows Cyprus to cooperate with other countries in the Schengen Area on matters such as immigration, crime control, and security.

Despite being in Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland are not part of the Schengen area. One of the reasons the UK opted out is because the island nation isn’t as affected by scrapped border controls. However, when the UK was a member of the EU, citizens could move freely between EU countries despite not being a member of the Schengen area.

Ireland won’t join the Schengen area because of its Common Travel Area (CTA) with the UK. British and Irish citizens can move freely and live between the two countries and enjoy the associated rights and privileges that the citizens of each country enjoy. The CTA would end if Ireland joined the Schengen area, as the UK is not part of it.

The European microstates of Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City are not strictly part of the Schengen Area, but their borders operate as if they were. Each of these microstates has open borders and no border controls with the countries in the Schengen Area that surround them.

What are the benefits of the Schengen area?

The Schengen area allows people to travel freely from one country to another without going through border controls. Approximately 1.25 billion journeys are made within the Schengen area each year.

The relaxed borders help encourage tourism and benefit the cultural sector. Tourists are more likely to spend money within European countries thanks to their freedom of movement. The Schengen area has also helped improve trade across borders and the speed at which goods can travel across Europe.

Citizens, particularly those living near national borders, can choose where to shop. In time, this could help reduce the price differences across borders and reinforce Europe’s free market. The cross-border competition will increase, and supply and demand will largely influence prices.

The Schengen area has helped member countries improve security in the EU. International police forces cooperate with one another, which helps in cross-border surveillance of suspects and hot pursuit of criminals. The improved law enforcement cooperation helps aid the fight against terrorism and organized crime (such as human trafficking).

How do people travel within the Schengen area?

EU and EFTA nationals can travel from one country to another within the Schengen area without showing their passport or national identity cards. However, most countries in the zone require visitors to carry their national identification documents when they travel and to present them if requested by an authorized person. National authorities may carry out police checks at international borders.

Nationals from countries not in the Schengen area must show their passport and other required national identity cards at border control. They must get their passport stamped when entering the Schengen area. Police or other national authorities may check identification documents within the Schengen area and upon the person’s departure from the Schengen area.

Hotels and other types of commercial accommodation in the Schengen area are legally required to obtain a registration form from their guests (written by their own hand). This includes guests who are citizens of other Schengen states. Spouses, minor children, and members of travel groups aren’t required to complete the registration form. Schengen states can request further details on these registration forms not specified by the Schengen area regulation.

Can border control within the Schengen area change?

Border control can be adapted or reintroduced in exceptional circumstances. Several EU countries reintroduced border control between 2020 and 2022 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some additional controls have also been introduced in response to terrorist threats or the increased number of migrants through the EU.

Temporary border controls can be introduced if there is a serious threat to national security. However, the Commission and other EU countries must be given at least four weeks’ notice on any changes to border control. The notice period can be reduced in extenuating circumstances where the changes weren’t planned (such as in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic).

What is a Schengen Visa?

The Schengen visa is a short-stay visa valid for 90 days of travel for tourism or business purposes. It enables you to enter and freely travel within a country in the Schengen area during the 90 days. If you wish to live, work, or study in a Schengen country for over 90 days, you must apply for a national visa from that European country.

Citizens of over 100 countries need to apply for a Schengen Visa to visit Europe. This list excludes 60 non-Schengen Area countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Countries that don’t require a Schengen Visa can travel within the Schengen Area for 90 days on a business or tourism trip.

To apply for a Schengen Visa, you must file your application with the country’s embassy, consulates, or visa center. The earliest you can apply is six months before you travel, and the minimum application period is 15 days before you travel.

What is ETIAS?

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is a new system that is set to be introduced in May 2025. It will be a legal entry requirement for nationals from visa-exempt countries (such as the US, the UK, and Australia) who are traveling to any of the 30 specified European countries. Countries that will require ETIAS travel authorization include France, Germany, and Italy.

Some nationals from visa-required countries may not need to apply for a visa and can apply for an ETIAS instead. For example, students of visa-required countries traveling on a school trip to a European country that requires ETIAS don’t require a visa and can use an ETIAS instead. To qualify, the student must be traveling with other students and a teacher.

Refugees who reside in and possess a travel document from any of the 30 specified European countries can also apply for an ETIAS instead of a visa. You should check travel requirements to see whether this applies to you.

A stateless person who resides in and possesses a travel document from one of the 30 European countries can apply for an ETIAS instead of a visa. You should check the Consulates of the countries you plan to visit to ensure you meet the right criteria.

How do countries join the Schengen area?

Countries must fulfill a list of conditions before they are able to join the Schengen area. They must agree to take control of their external borders on behalf of other countries in the Schengen area and issue Schengen visas. Prospective countries must also agree to police cooperation and personal data protection.

A prospective country must undergo several Schengen evaluations so that it can be confirmed that it meets the necessary requirements. Bulgaria and Romania have successfully completed these assessments but haven’t been officially added to the area yet. The evaluation process is still ongoing for Cyprus.

Any country wishing to join the Schengen area must gain a unanimous vote from all member countries before it can join.

Summary

There are 27 countries in the Schengen area, the majority of which are also in the EU. The total area covers 4 million square kilometers and is home to around 420 million people.

The Schengen area helps promote travel within Europe by relaxing border controls. People can travel freely across 27 member countries without having to go through border control. Those with a Schengen area visa can do the same for 90 days.

Some of the benefits of the Schengen area include improved police cooperation and international security across the EU. Citizens of the member countries can also travel across external borders for shopping, which can help to reduce international price differences.

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