All you need to know about border control in the Schengen Area

In normal times, Schengen countries have abolished the vast majority of border controls between member states so that Europeans and visitors who are crossing borders do not need to present travel documents each time they enter a new country. As a result, places on the external border of the Schengen Area are effectively entry points from outside - be they external borders, ports, or airports.

Border control in the Schengen Area

If you are entering the Schengen Area from outside the zone, you will need to provide documents such as a valid passport issued within the previous 10 years that’s valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the Schengen Area.

 

If you are not from a Schengen state or one with a visa-free travel arrangement with the Schengen Area, you will need to have a Schengen Visa or sticker.

 

You may also be asked to justify the purpose of your intended visit and to prove you have sufficient means of subsistence during your stay (documentation you have to provide when applying for a visa).

 

Checks may also be made to ensure there has been no alert issued against you in the Schengen Information System and you’re not deemed a threat to security by EU officials.

 

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.

 

The Schengen Borders Code

The operation of the Schengen Area’s external borders is governed by the Schengen Borders Code (SBC). Upon entering the Schengen Area, EU citizens will undergo a minimum check to establish an identity based on travel documents, while non-EU nationals will be subject to thorough checks like those listed above.

 

The travel documents of non-EU nationals are systematically stamped upon entry and exit from the Schengen Area. If your documents do not bear the correct stamps, you can provide evidence that you have respected the conditions of your stay.

 

Temporary border controls and the Schengen Borders Code

The Schengen Borders Code (SBC) allows member states to temporarily reintroduce border control at the internal borders in the event of a serious threat to public policy or security. This must be applied as a last resort measure in exceptional situations and be for a limited time. It should also be the minimum restriction proportionate to a threat. Although this is the prerogative of member states, the European Commission can issue an opinion on whether the actions respect this principle of proportionality - but has no veto over measures.

 

Covid-19 and Schengen border controls

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in Spring 2020, a majority of European countries chose to implement internal border controls with the aim of halting the spread of the virus. As a result, even many EU citizens were no longer automatically free to travel across borders - either at all or without providing proof that they were Covid-free and/or undertaking essential travel. These restrictions have been loosened at times, although as of June 2021, many border restrictions on non-essential travel remained in place, with most nations insisting travelers provide proof they are vaccinated, of a negative PCR test, and/or quarantine depending on the state concerned and where you are traveling from. However, EU residents and travelers from select countries with low case rates of Covid-19 may soon be able to avoid tests and quarantines if they have been fully vaccinated for 14 days or more.

 

The EU establishes the risk levels in its constituent countries via a traffic light system based on case rates in each state, with travel strongly discouraged to and from red areas, even within the EU, and quarantine or testing measures imposed on all but those areas marked green. However, decisions on specific restrictions are ultimately made by member states. The EU and Schengen Area also have restrictions on non-essential travel from all but a select list of countries, which, as of June 2021, consisted of Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity).

 

These restrictions will be loosened once a certificate system that indicates immunity to Covid-19 through vaccination or previous infection, or evidence of recent negative test results, is set up. Plans are in place to roll this out by 1 July. The new system also applies to non-EU members of the Schengen zone, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, but individual countries can still impose their own travel rules if they see fit.

 

Useful information for each Schengen member

Austria

Belgium

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

 

Related topics on the Schengen area

 

Frequently asked questions about border control in the Schengen Area

When will Covid-19 border control restrictions end in the Schengen Area ?

Due to the nature of the pandemic it is impossible to say - but there are plans to loosen restrictions once the vaccine certification scheme is in place.

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

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.

If I leave the Schengen Zone can I return on the same visa ?

Only if the visa you have obtained allows multiple entries.