Demystifying Schengen: A Comprehensive Guide to the Schengen Area, Visa Types, and Application Process
About the Schengen Area
The Schengen Area includes 27 European countries which have open borders throughout which means that people traveling to this area with one visa can do so freely and move from country to country without the need to apply for more visas. The Schengen Area is the world’s largest visa-free zone.
Schengen Visa Explained
A Schengen Visa allows you to enter and travel in any of the 27 Schengen countries for short-stays up to 90 days in any 180-day period. The main reason for applying for a Schengen visa is for tourism, business or study for up to 90 days.
For stays over 90 days for the purposes of working or living within the Schengen Area, the Schengen Visa is not suitable. In these cases, you would apply for a National Visa.
Who needs a Schengen Visa
There are over 60 countries whose nationals do not need a visa to enter and travel within the Schengen Area for up to 90 days. If you are not a national of any of these countries, you will need to apply for a Schengen Visa to travel to any of the Schengen countries.
Travel Documents and Entry Requirements for non-EU nationals
If you are a non-EU national traveling to the Schengen Area, you will need to provide certain documents at the border of the country you are entering. This applies even if you have not had to apply for a visa.
The documents required when entering a Schengen country are:
- Valid passport – must be dated within the last 10 years and for 3 months after your departure date from the Schengen Area
- Schengen Visa – if you are a national of a country that must apply for a visa
- ETIAS – Due to begin from 2025, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System will provide online travel authorisations for visa-exempt visitors to the Schengen Area
At the border, your passport will have an entry stamp on one of the pages which proves you have been allowed to enter the Schengen Area.
As part of the application process, you will also be required to produce other documents such as proof of funds, proof of accommodation and flight itinerary and these documents will vary depending on the reason for travel, so it will be important to check what is required before submitting your application.
Schengen Countries that issue Schengen Visas
The 27 countries that issue Schengen Visas are:
- Austria, Belgium, Croatia, 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
Once a Schengen visa is issued, you can freely travel between these countries for the duration of the visa.
Schengen Visa types
There are a variety of visa types if you intend to travel to any of the countries in the Schengen Area and the one you apply for will depend on the reason for travel:
- Tourist / Visitor Visa
- Business purposes
- Visiting family / friends
- Medical reasons
- Attending cultural and sports events
- Airport transit
Schengen Visas permit you to stay in any of the Schengen countries for a maximum of 90 days. They are usually issued as single entry, double entry or multiple entry.
How to Apply for a Visa to Travel to Europe
To apply for a visa for Europe, you’ll first need to know if you need a visa for the country you plan to visit. If you do need a visa, you must find out all the requirements for your application such as what documents you need and where to submit your application. The best place to do this is on the website of the consulate/embassy of the country you are going to. There is a lot of useful information and if you follow the steps laid out, then the process of applying should be quick and easy.
Most embassies/consulates have outsourced the application process to third party companies, such as VFS Global and you will make an appointment and submit your application to one of their local offices. It is then the embassy/consulate’s responsibility to make the decision about whether to grant your visa or not.
The current Schengen visa fee is €80. There are reduced fees for children and some nationalities.
|Visa fee in Euros
|Children aged 6-12 years
|Children under 6 years
|Nationals from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kosovo
|Nationals of the Gambia
Visa fees are usually paid in the currency of the country you are applying from and they are always non-refundable – even if your application is rejected. There may also be a service fee payable if you are submitting your application to a third party company. Fees can be paid in cash or by credit / debit card.
Travel Insurance for Schengen Visas
When applying for a Schengen Visa, you must have valid travel insurance and proof of this is required. In addition, the insurance must meet the following requirements:
- Insured for at least €30,000
- Cover is valid in all the member states of the Schengen area
- Must provide cover for emergency hospitalization, emergency medical attention, repatriation and death
- Must provide cover for the entire trip regardless of your reason for traveling
Applying for a Schengen Visa from Around the World
Most cities around the world have a European embassy or consulate where you can contact for applying for a Schengen visa.
Where you apply depends on which Schengen country you plan to visit:
- Visiting just 1 country – you will apply at the embassy or consulate of the Schengen country you are going to
- Visiting more than 1 country – you will apply at the embassy or consulate of the country where you will spend the most number of days
- Visiting more than 1 Schengen country and you are spending the same amount of time in each – you would apply at the embassy or consulate of the country you will enter first
Each embassy/consulate deals with applications from within its jurisdiction, so you should check to make sure you are applying at the correct office based on where you live.
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