What does Schengen mean ?

Schengen is a village in Luxembourg, but it is perhaps far more famous as the name of the agreement that led most countries within the European Union (and several outside) to abolish their national borders. The resulting free travel area is known as the Schengen Area or Zone - and is one of the world’s biggest areas where border controls have formally ended.

Schengen - a history

Following the Second World War and the advent of the European Economic Community (which would become the EU), discussions began as to how countries could return to the free travel that often existed throughout Europe before the modern era of national border restrictions. Discussions over the idea finally resulted in concrete action during the 1980s, when a fierce debate took place about whether to abolish internal border checks across Europe.

France and Germany took the first initial step towards Schengen on 17 June 1984 by agreeing to define required conditions for the free movement of citizens between the countries. This then developed into the Schengen Agreement, which was signed by five countries on 14 June 1985. These were European countries: France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The agreement was signed in the village in the south of Luxembourg from where it takes its name.

Five years later, on 19 June 1990, a Convention was signed which put the concrete provisions enabling the implementation of the Schengen Agreement - covering issues such as abolishing border controls, creating an overall Schengen Visa, and creating the Schengen Information System that allowed immigration and law enforcement officials to collaborate across the continent. Shortly after, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Greece joined - with Schengen finally coming into force and the area going operational on 27 March 1995. Other countries both inside and outside the EU have subsequently joined to extend the area to 27 countries.

Another major milestone occurred in May 1999 when The Treaty of Amsterdam incorporated the Schengen Agreement inside the legal framework of the European Union so that the rules do not operate separately from the EU.

Which countries are in the Schengen Agreement?

Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland are the countries that have acceded to the Schengen Agreement and are thus known as the Schengen states.

The Schengen Area thus includes all EU member states except Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania. However, the latter three states all implement many Schengen provisions, such as allowing travelers to enter on Schengen Visas, as they are in the process of joining the area. Ireland has opted out of joining, in part due to the country’s free travel area with former EU member, the U.K.

In addition to EU countries, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein are also Schengen states despite not being members of the EU.

What does this mean for Schengen citizens and travelers visiting the area?

Citizens of EU states have the right to live and work in any other EU state, and Schengen helps facilitate this by removing costly or inconvenient border checks between nations - meaning it is simple for EU citizens to cross borders to live, work, or go on holiday.

The Schengen Agreement also has benefits for those traveling from outside the area to Schengen countries - as it’s cheaper and easier to apply for a single short-stay Schengen Visa (issued by the country where you are spending most of your visit) that enables you to travel across all 27 countries. For example, the travel and medical insurance requirements for a Schengen Visa are clear - with AXA providing several specially designed policies that meet the €30,000 threshold for coverage stated by the Schengen states.

The Schengen Area has also concluded visa-free arrangements with more than 60 nations - meaning citizens of those countries do not require a visa, but from the end of 2023 will just need to register via the new ETIAS system.

However, Schengen Visas are not available to third-country nationals who want to live and work in an EU state permanently - as they must apply for a national work or residency visa. Once this is granted, however, they will usually be free to travel to other Schengen states.

Useful information for each Schengen country



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Related topics on the Schengen area

Frequently asked questions about the Schengen Agreement

Why do I need travel and medical insurance for a Schengen Visa ?

It is a mandatory requirement to obtain the Schengen Visa. This is to ensure you are not left stranded and unable to pay medical costs should you fall ill during your stay.

How big is the Schengen Area ?

The Schengen Area has a population of almost 420 million people and an area of 4 312 099 square kilometers - running from Spain’s Atlantic coast to the Russian border in the east.

What is the Schengen acquis ?

These are the agreed rules and regulations that make the Schengen Area operable and countries must sign up to the acquis to join the area.