What is the Schengen acquis ?

The Schengen acquis, also known as the ‘acquis communautaire’, is a term for the set of rules enacted by legislation, including the treaties, regulations, directives, decisions, delegated and implementing acts, as well as case law decided in the European Court of Justice which determines the functioning of the border-free Schengen Area.

It includes the original Schengen Agreement as well as Convention and Accession Agreements. The acquis is a set of rules that allow signatory nations to abolish internal border controls and regulates external border controls. Candidate states who are members of the European Union (EU) or hoping to join it must accept the acquis.

What is the Schengen Agreement ?

The Schengen Agreement is a treaty signed in 1985 that led to the creation of a borderless zone of countries within the EU. Named after the village of Schengen in Luxembourg, where the original signatories France, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands initially signed the agreement, it was designed to pave the way for a Europe with a borderless zone where travelers could move freely without the hassle of border checks.

What is the Schengen Convention?

In June 1990, the Convention was signed to implement the agreement and abolish internal border controls, establishing the Schengen Visa, a database accessible by all member states, known as the Schengen Information System, as well as cooperation between immigration agencies. In the two years following the signing of the Convention, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Greece agreed to join the Schengen Zone.

What are Schengen Accession Agreements?

The Schengen Area finally went into operation in March 1995, when internal border checks were abolished by France, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. The following month, Austria agreed to join, with Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden joining the following year. A number of countries have since joined via accession agreements, which means they will implement the Schengen acquis and adhere to the rules and regulations key to the operation in the area, bringing the total number of Schengen states to 27.


Just because a country agrees to join, it doesn’t mean that they are yet applying the Schengen acquis and are a full member of the Schengen Area. Of the EU member states, 23 fully apply the Schengen acquis, with four non-EU states doing so. Several EU countries do not fully apply the acquis, either through choice, circumstance, or because they are preparing to join the Schengen Area but have not yet met the full joining criteria.

Who applies the Schengen acquis?

Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain began applying it from the area’s inception in 1995, with Austria and Italy doing so in 1997. Greece began doing so in 2000, with Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Norway joining them from 2001. In 2007, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia applied the acquis, with Switzerland joining them in 2008, Liechtenstein doing so from 2011 and Croatia in 2023.

EU member states in the process of fully applying the Schengen acquis are Bulgaria and Romania.

EU member states that do not fully apply the acquis due to their circumstances are Cyprus and Ireland. While it was a member state, the U.K. also did not join the Schengen Area by applying for the acquis.

What is the Schengen acquis for?

The purpose of the Schengen Area is to enable people to freely move through its 27 member states without going through internal border checks, with no queuing at airports, or borders. It also allowed nationals of countries outside the area to travel through the Schengen Area by obtaining a Schengen Visa that allows you to pass through all 27 countries. These are issued individually by each country but are valid across the area. The acquis is the network of rules that makes this viable and enforceable by different countries across the continent.

Schengen External Borders

The external borders of the Schengen Area include airports, maritime ports, and land border crossing points. The Schengen Borders Code - which is part of the Schengen acquis - manages the rules relating to entry into the Schengen Area. According to this code, every Schengen state is responsible for controlling its external borders on the edge of the Schengen Area, and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency helps the member states in border management.

Schengen Visas

Part of the Schengen acquis are the rules determining the issuance of Schengen Visas. These allow travelers to spend up to 90 days in the Schengen Area and are issued by the country you are spending the most time in. Citizens of many nations, including the U.S. and U.K., do not require a Schengen Visa as their countries have visa-free arrangements with the Schengen states. Among the requirements for a Schengen Visa are travel and medical insurance covering you for costs up to €30,000.

What is the Schengen Information System ?

The SIS is the database that allows security officials in member states to assess threats and security issues including suspected criminals; individuals entering illegally; stolen, misappropriated, or lost assets; and missing people.

Useful information for each Schengen country



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Related topics on the Schengen area


Frequently asked questions about the Schengen acquis

Who decides the acquis rules of the Schengen Area ?

Member states decide the rules via the agreements that helped create the structure of the Schengen Area - plus judges interpreting case law.

Will travel insurance fees be refunded if I am refused entry ?

Yes. If your visa is refused - AXA will refund your insurance fees in most cases - but you will need to provide documentation stating why your application was refused.

Are there ever times when the rules of the Schengen acquis will be applied differently ?

Yes - we have lived through a time when free movement has been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic - but these are temporary emergency measures.