What's Schengen and Why It May Cut Your European Vacation Short
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The Schengen Agreement was signed on June 14, 1985 in Schengen, Luxembourg and supplemented in 1990, by the Schengen Convention. The agreement consists of 26 European countries that, for traveling and tourism purposes, share the same visa policies. Effectively, the countries that make up the Schengen Area abolished their internal borders. The idea is to allow unrestricted, passport free movement of people, services, capital, and goods between member countries. While each country has the ability to heighten security under specific circumstances, there aren’t border checks when crossing from one Schengen member country to another (although under threat, a country can re-enable an internal border, with a border check for up to 30 days).
To avoid exploitation, countries share a common database and alert system, the Schengen Information System (SIS), and they maintain similar police and judicial rules. Additionally, national police can cross from a Schengen country into another Schengen country when in pursuit of a criminal. For a general overview of the agreement, we recommend visiting the Schengen Visa Info website.
How to Pronounce Schengen
Initially, we mispronounced Schengen, and since we were only speaking about it to each other, there was no one to correct us. It wasn’t until we said it in front of someone in Norway, that we learned the correct pronunciation. The pronunciation varies slightly depending what language it’s being said in, but you won’t go wrong with this pronunciation: sh-eh-n-g-uh-n. Be sure to hear it pronounced as well (be sure your speakers are on).
What Countries are in the Schengen Area?
You may be tempted to assume that all European Union (EU) countries are part of the Schengen Agreement. It’s an easy mistake to make, but there are a few EU countries that aren’t part of the agreement and a few non-EU countries that are a part of it. To complicate matters further, there are a short list of countries that are likely to join Schengen in the near future, and a few that honor Schengen border policies even though they aren’t officially part of the agreement.
The 26 Schengen Countries are:
- Czech Republic
- Iceland (Non EU)
- Norway (Non EU)
- Switzerland (Non EU)
Countries that Honor Schengen:
- San Marino
- Vatican City
European Union (EU) Countries that Are NOT Part of Schengen:
- United Kingdom
- Romania (Seeking Schengen membership)
- Bulgaria (Seeking Schengen membership)
- Cyprus (Seeking Schengen membership)
- Croatia (Seeking Schengen membership)
What Schengen Means For Travelers
For those who aren’t citizens of a Schengen country, and like us, are from the United States, it fortunately means visa free travel within all Schengen countries. However, it’s restricted to a cumulative 90 days (three months) within a 180 day (six month) period. If you want to stay longer within the area, you’ll need to get a visa. Unfortunately, there isn’t a visa that covers all of the Schengen Area, so you’ll need a visa for each country you'll be in beyond the first 90 days. For US citizens we recommend checking Travel.State.Gov, and the Schengen Visa Info page for US Schengen Visa information.
For non US citizens, we recommend checking with your local government agency for Schengen Travel information. You can also review the Schengen Visa Info page, which contains information on countries that require a Schengen Visa upon initial entry.
- If you’re traveling throughout Europe for more than three months, you’ll need to be sure and abide by Schengen visa regulations. For example, if you’re in Europe for six months, only three months can be in a Schengen member country. Therefore, be sure to spend three of your six months in countries that aren't part of the agreement. We spent time in the United Kingdom, Turkey, Egypt, and Romania so that we wouldn't go over the Schengen limit of 90 days within a 180 day period.
- Be sure to keep track of how many days you’re in the Schengen Area, within each six month period. This Schengen Calculator is a helpful tool.
- There are peculiarities when it comes to Schengen, so be sure to research the area you’re visiting. For example, the Norwegian Svalbard Islands and the sovereign microstate of Andorra (bordered by Spain and France) aren't part of Schengen.
In closing, please keep in mind two things. One, this is a simplified explanation of a more complex international policy. Two, it would be wise to double check Schengen and specific country policies, for travel and visas specific to your country of origin. Again, for US citizens we recommend Travel.State.Gov. If we missed anything, or you have first hand experience with Schengen and going over the 90 day limit, we'd love to hear from you; leave a comment!