The Schengen Area ( /ˈʃɛŋən/) is an area comprising 26 European states that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders. The area mostly functions as a single jurisdiction for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. The area is named after the 1985 Schengen Agreement.
22 of the 28 EU member states participate in the Schengen Area. Of the six EU members that are not part of the Schengen Area, four—Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania—are legally obliged to join the area in the future, while the other two—Ireland and the United Kingdom—maintain opt-outs. The four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, are not members of the EU, but have signed agreements in association with the Schengen Agreement. Three European microstates that are not members of the European Union but which are enclaves or semi-enclave within an EU member state—Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City—are de facto part of the Schengen Area.
The Schengen Area has a population of over 400 million people and an area of 4,312,099 square kilometres (1,664,911 sq mi). About 1.7 million people commute to work across a European border each day, and in some regions these people constitute up to a third of the workforce. Each year, there are 1.3 billion crossings of Schengen borders in total. 57 million crossings are due to transport of goods by road, with a value of €2.8 trillion each year. The decrease in the cost of trade due to Schengen varies from 0.42% to 1.59% depending on geography, trade partners, and other factors. Countries outside of the Schengen area also benefit. States in the Schengen Area have strengthened border controls with non-Schengen countries.
The Schengen Agreement was signed on 14 June 1985 by five of the ten EEC member states in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg. The Schengen Area was established separately from the European Economic Community, when consensus could not be reached among all EC member states on the abolition of border controls.
The Agreement was supplemented in 1990 by the Schengen Convention, which proposed the abolition of internal border controls and a common visa policy. The Agreements and the rules adopted under them were entirely separate from the EC structures, and led to the creation of the Schengen Area on 26 March 1995.
As more EU member states signed the Schengen Agreement, consensus was reached on absorbing it into the procedures of the EU. The Agreement and its related conventions were incorporated into the mainstream of European Union law by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, which came into effect in 1999. A consequence of the Agreement being part of European law is that any amendment or regulation is made within its processes, in which the non-EU members are not participants. The UK and Ireland have maintained a Common Travel Area (CTA) since 1923, but the UK could not accept abolishing border controls and was, therefore, granted a full opt-out from the area. While not signing the Schengen Treaty, Ireland has always looked more favourably on joining but has not done so to maintain the CTA and its open border with Northern Ireland. The Nordic members required Norway and Iceland to be included, which was accepted, so a consensus could be reached.
The Schengen Area consists of 26 states, including four which are not members of the European Union (EU). Two of the non-EU members, Iceland and Norway, are part of the Nordic Passport Union and are officially classified as 'states associated with the Schengen activities of the EU'. Switzerland was allowed to participate in the same manner in 2008. Liechtenstein joined the Schengen Area on 19 December 2011. De facto, the Schengen Area also includes three European micro-states – Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City – that maintain open or semi-open borders with other Schengen member countries. Two EU members – Ireland and the United Kingdom – negotiated opt-outs from Schengen and continue to operate the Common Travel Area systematic border controls with other EU member states.
The remaining four EU member states – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania – are obliged to eventually join the Schengen Area. However, before fully implementing the Schengen rules, each state must have its preparedness assessed in four areas: air borders, visas, police cooperation, and personal data protection. This evaluation process involves a questionnaire and visits by EU experts to selected institutions and workplaces in the country under assessment.
The only land borders with border controls (not counting temporary ones) between EU/EEA members, are those of Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania (which are expected to be removed), the one at Gibraltar and those at the Channel Tunnel (which are to cease to be an EU/EEA land border if Brexit goes ahead).
States which are not members of the Schengen Area but still have open borders with the area:
Although Cyprus, which joined the EU on 1 May 2004, is legally bound to join the Schengen Area, implementation has been delayed because of the Cyprus dispute. According to former Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Lillikas, "strict and full control based on Schengen will create a huge tribulation on a daily basis for the Turkish Cypriots" of Northern Cyprus, and it is unclear if this control is possible before the resolution of the dispute. The British Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, a British Overseas Territory which is outside the EU, will also need "other handling and mechanisms", especially when/if the UK leaves the EU. Akrotiri and Dhekelia has no border control to Cyprus, but has its own border control at its air base. As of 2018 no date has been fixed for implementation of the Schengen rules by Cyprus. Cyprus has less potential benefit from an implementation of Schengen, for it has no land border with another EU member; air travel or around 12 hours of sea travel is needed to the nearest EU member.
While Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU on 1 January 2007, are also legally bound to join the Schengen Area, implementation has been delayed. On 15 October 2010, Bulgaria and Romania joined SIS II for law enforcement cooperation. On 9 June 2011, the Council of Ministers concluded that the evaluation process had been completed successfully and that the two countries fulfilled all technical accession criteria. Bulgaria's and Romania's bids to join the Schengen Area were approved by the European Parliament in June 2011 but rejected by the Council of Ministers in September 2011, with the Dutch and Finnish governments citing concerns about shortcomings in anti-corruption measures and in the fight against organised crime. Although the original plan was for the Schengen Area to open its air and sea borders with Bulgaria and Romania by March 2012, and its land borders by July 2012, continued opposition from Germany, Finland and the Netherlands has delayed the two countries' entry to the Schengen Area. On 4 October 2017, the "European Parliament voted for "access" of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen Information System." Moreover, "the final political decision whether the two countries can become part of the Schengen area and stop systematic border checks with neighbouring EU countries must be taken unanimously by all sides of the European Council." On December 11, 2018, the European Parliament voted unanimously for the resolution in favour of accepting both countries, requiring the European Council to "act swiftly" on the matter.
While Croatia, which joined the EU on 1 July 2013, is also legally bound to eventually join the Schengen Area, implementation has been delayed. In March 2015, Croatia's then Interior Minister Ranko Ostojić said that his country was ready to join the Schengen Area. Croatia requested that the EU conduct a technical evaluation, which took a year and a half, and started on 1 July 2015. This evaluation was positive and Croatia got access to the Schengen Information System in January 2017. On 27 June 2017, Croatia joined SIS II for law enforcement cooperation.
The influx of refugees and migrants from Greece through North Macedonia and Serbia to Croatia and then to current Schengen member states like Slovenia, Austria and Hungary, as part of the 2015 European migrant crisis, has led some to question whether there will be the political consensus necessary for further enlargement of the Schengen Area in this atmosphere. In September 2015, Hungary threatened to veto Croatia's accession to the Schengen Area after it allowed migrants to transit the country into Hungary. Slovenia has suggested it could veto Croatia's accession to the Schengen Area as a result of its border dispute.
In October 2018, a senior Croatian government official said Croatia's goal was to meet the technical criteria to join Schengen by the end of 2018, and hoped to join by 2020. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, stated in June 2019 that he "would like us [the EU Commission] to propose Croatia’s accession to the Schengen Area under our mandate". In May 2019, during a visit to the country, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany fully supports Croatia joining the Schengen.
In July 2019, Croatia received unofficial information from the European Commission that it has met all technical requirements for accession to the Schengen area.
There are territories of Schengen member states that are exempted from the Schengen Agreement. Areas located outside Europe are not part of the Schengen Area. The only areas of Schengen member states located in Europe but excluded are the Faroe Islands and Svalbard.
The French overseas departments of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion, and the overseas collectivity of Saint Martin are part of the European Union but do not form part of the Schengen Area. The EU's freedom of movement provisions apply, but each territory operates its own visa regime for non-European Economic Area (EEA), non-Swiss nationals. While a visa valid for one of these territories will be valid for all, visa exemption lists differ. A Schengen visa, even one issued by France, is not valid for these territories. A visa for Sint Maarten (which is valid for travelling to the Dutch side of the island of Saint Martin) is also valid for the French side. France also has several territories which are neither part of the EU nor the Schengen Area. These are: French Polynesia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, New Caledonia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna.
Only the Netherlands' European territory is part of the Schengen Area. Six Dutch territories in the Caribbean are outside the Area. Three of these territories – Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (collectively known as the BES islands) – are special municipalities within the Netherlands proper. The other three – Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten – are autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. All islands retain their status as Overseas countries and territories and are thus not part of the European Union. The six territories have a separate visa system from the European part of the Netherlands and people travelling between these islands and the Schengen Area are subjected to full border checks, with a passport being required even for EU/Schengen citizens, including Dutch (national ID cards are not accepted).
Svalbard is part of Norway and has a special status under international law. It is not part of the Schengen Area. There is no visa regime in existence for Svalbard either for entry, residence or work, but it is difficult to visit Svalbard without travelling through the Schengen Area, although there are charter flights from Russia. Since 2011, the Norwegian government has imposed systematic border checks on individuals wishing to enter and leave Svalbard, requiring a passport or national identity card for non-Norwegian citizens. As a result, the border between Svalbard and the rest of Norway is largely treated like any other external Schengen border. A Schengen visa must be multiple entry to allow returning to Norway. There is no welfare or asylum system for immigrants on Svalbard, and people incapable of supporting themselves may be sent away.
The Danish territories of the Faroe Islands and Greenland are neither part of the European Union nor the Schengen Area, and visas to Denmark are not automatically valid in these territories. However, both of these territories lack border controls on arrivals from the Schengen Area, and the air or sea carriers are responsible for carrying out document checks before boarding, as is common for travel inside the Schengen Area. Citizens of EU/EFTA countries can travel to the Faroes and Greenland using a passport or national ID card, while citizen of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway or Sweden can use any acceptable identification (such as driving licences or bank ID cards, which is advised against since aircraft might be diverted to Scotland when foggy).
Ireland and the United Kingdom were the only EU members which, prior to the 2004 enlargement, had not signed the Schengen Agreement. Both countries maintain a Common Travel Area with passport-free travel for their citizens between them and the three British Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, that are outside the European Union. Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory and is neither part of the Schengen Area nor the Common Travel Area.
The UK declined to sign up to the Schengen Agreement, one argument being that, for an island nation, frontier controls are a better and less intrusive way to prevent illegal immigration than other measures, such as identity cards, residence permits, and registration with the police, which are appropriate for countries with "extensive and permeable land borders". Ireland did not sign up to the Schengen Agreement because it "would not be in the interest of Ireland to have a situation where the common travel area with Britain would be ended and Ireland would impose both exit and entry controls on persons travelling between here and Britain and, in addition, on the land frontier".
When Schengen was subsumed into the EU by the Treaty of Amsterdam, Ireland and the UK obtained an opt-out from the part of the treaty which was to incorporate the Schengen rules (or acquis) into EU Law. Under the relevant protocol, Ireland and the United Kingdom may request to participate in aspects of the Schengen acquis but this is subject to the approval of the Schengen states.
The UK formally requested to participate in certain provisions of the Schengen acquis – Title III relating to Police Security and Judicial Cooperation – in 1999, and this request was approved by the Council of the European Union on 29 May 2000. The United Kingdom's formal participation in the previously approved areas of cooperation was put into effect by a 2004 Council decision that came into effect on 1 January 2005. Although the United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen passport-free area, it still uses the Schengen Information System, a governmental database used by European countries to store and disseminate information on individuals and property. This allows the UK to exchange information with countries that are a part of the Schengen agreement, often for the sake of liaising over law enforcement.
In contrast, while Ireland initially submitted a request to participate in the Schengen acquis in 2002, which was approved by the Council of the European Union, that decision has not yet been put into effect. In February 2010 the Irish Minister for Justice, in response to a parliamentary question, said that: "[t]he measures which will enable Ireland to meet its Schengen requirements are currently being progressed".
A previous 1999 report by the European Union Select Committee of the House of Lords recommended "full United Kingdom participation" in all the various four Titles of the Schengen Implementing Convention.
On 23 June 2016, the British electorate voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and on 27 March 2017 the United Kingdom formally requested such a withdrawal. It is not decided what the future state of Ireland will be, although it has been suggested that Ireland will stay in the Common Travel Area and not join the Schengen Area, because it wants to keep the lack of border control at its land border.
Liechtenstein is landlocked and does not have an international airport. It has been a member of the Schengen Area since 2011. It does not have a border check at the Balzers heliport, as flights to/from Balzers must be to/from the Schengen Area. Liechtenstein does not issue visas, and recommends visitors apply for a visa in another Schengen country, e.g. Switzerland.
Three European microstates – Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City — are officially not part of Schengen, but are considered de facto within the Schengen Area, meaning they are accessible without any border controls. They have open borders and do not have border controls with the Schengen countries that surround them. Some national laws have the text "countries against which border control is not performed based on the Schengen Agreement and the 562/2006 EU regulation", which then includes the microstates and other non-EU areas with open borders. The three microstates cannot issue Schengen visas and, with the exception of Monaco, are not part of the Schengen Area. San Marino and the Vatican City are both landlocked states surrounded by Italy and neither has an airport or seaport. They do not perform border checks for arrivals from outside Schengen. Helicopters are not permitted to go from outside Schengen or from a ship directly to San Marino or the Vatican City.
Monaco has an open border with France. Schengen laws are administered as if it was part of EU, and Schengen visas are accepted. Both French and Monégasque authorities carry out checks at Monaco's seaport and heliport.
Vatican City has an open border with Italy. In 2006 it showed interest in joining the Schengen agreement for closer cooperation in information sharing and similar activities covered by the Schengen Information System. Very exceptionally, Italy has allowed people to visit the Vatican City, without being accepted for an Italian visa, then being escorted by police between the airport and the Vatican, or using helicopter.
Andorra is landlocked and does not have an airport or seaport, but there are several heliports. Visitors to the country can only gain access by road or helicopter through Schengen members France or Spain. Andorra maintains border controls with both France and Spain. There are border controls in the other direction also, but these are more focused on customs control (Andorra is considered a tax haven with 4% VAT). Andorra does not have any visa requirements. Citizens of EU countries need either a national identity card or passport to enter Andorra, while anyone else requires a passport or equivalent. Schengen visas are accepted, but those travellers who need a visa to enter the Schengen Area need a multiple-entry visa to visit Andorra, because entering Andorra means leaving the Schengen Area, and reentering France or Spain is considered a new entry into the Schengen Area.
As of 2015, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino were negotiating an Association Agreement with the EU. Andorra's ambassador to Spain, Jaume Gaytán, has said that he hopes that the agreement will include provisions to make the states associate members of the Schengen Agreement.
For any two countries in the Schengen area, total trade between them increases by approximately 0.1% per year. The same amount of increase in trade is gained again for every 1% annual increase in immigration between the countries. On average, at each border the removal of controls is equivalent to the removal of a 0.7% tariff, and the cost savings on a trade route increase with the number of internal borders crossed. Countries outside of the Schengen area also benefit.
About 1.7 million people commute to work across a European border each day, and in some regions these people constitute up to a third of the workforce. For example, 2.1% of the workers in Hungary work in another country, primarily Austria and Slovakia. Each year, there are 1.3 billion crossings of Schengen borders in total. 57 million crossings are due to transport of goods by road, with a value of €2.8 trillion each year. The trade in goods is affected more strongly than trade in services, and the decrease in the cost of trade varies from 0.42% to 1.59% depending on geography, trade partners, and other factors.
Regulation of internal borders
Before the implementation of the Schengen Agreement, most borders in Europe were patrolled and a vast network of border posts existed around the continent, to check the identity and entitlement of people wishing to travel from one country to another.
Since the implementation of the Schengen rules, border posts have been closed (and often entirely removed) between participating countries.
The Schengen Borders Code requires participating states to remove all obstacles to free traffic flow at internal borders. Thus, road, rail and air passengers no longer have their identity checked by border guards when travelling between Schengen countries, although security controls by carriers are still permissible. Travellers should still bring a passport or national identity card, as one may be required.
Although travellers within the Schengen Area are no longer required to show documents at an internal border (although there have been some controversial instances when they have), the laws of most countries still require them to carry identity documents. Thus, foreigners with a valid residence permit in a Schengen State and carrying valid documents can travel within the territory and do not need any special permission to do so. It is the obligation of everyone travelling within the area to be able to show a fully valid form of personal identification approved by other Schengen states.
According to the Schengen rules, hotels and other types of commercial accommodation must register all foreign citizens, including citizens of other Schengen states, by requiring the completion of a registration form by their own hand. This does not apply to accompanying spouses and minor children or members of travel groups. In addition, a valid identification document has to be produced to the hotel manager or staff. The Schengen rules do not require any other procedures; thus, the Schengen states are free to regulate further details on the content of the registration forms, and identity documents which are to be produced, and may also require the persons exempted from registration by Schengen laws to be registered. Enforcement of these rules varies by country.
The Schengen regulation on crossing internal borders describes the checks for foreigners done by the police at suitable places inside each country.
The European Union constitutes a customs union and a Value Added Tax area. However, not all Schengen states or all of the territory of Schengen states are part of the customs union or VAT area. Some countries therefore legally conduct customs controls targeted at illegal goods, such as drugs.
Security checks can legally be carried out at ports and airports. Also police checks can be conducted if they:
- do not have border control as an objective;
- are based on general police information and experience regarding possible threats to public security and aim, in particular, to combat cross-border crime;
- are devised and executed in a manner clearly distinct from systematic checks on persons at the external borders;
- are carried out on the basis of spot-checks;
For flights within the Schengen Area (either between Schengen member states or within the same Schengen member state), law enforcement agencies, airport authorities and air carriers are only permitted to carry out security checks on passengers and may not carry out border checks. Such security checks can be conducted through the verification of the passenger's passport or national identity card: Such a practice must only be used to verify the passenger's identity (for commercial or transport security reasons) and not his or her immigration status. For this reason, law enforcement agencies, airport authorities and air carriers cannot require air passengers flying within the Schengen Area who are third-country nationals to prove the legality of their stay by showing a valid visa or residence permit. In addition, according to European Commission guidelines, identity checks on air passengers flying within the Schengen Area should take place only either at check-in, or upon entry to the secured zone of the airport, or at the boarding gate: passengers should not be required to undergo a verification of their identity on more than one occasion before their flight within the Schengen Area. Nevertheless, the identity checks function as practical border controls anyway, and are a problem for illegal immigrants who arrive in Greece (which has no land border to another Schengen country) and want to go to some other Schengen country. The requirements as to which identity document to possess varies by country and airline. Normally a passport or EU national identity card is needed. Greece, Iceland and Malta do not share land borders with other Schengen member states.
Travellers boarding flights between Schengen countries, but originating from a third country outside the area, are required to go through Schengen entry border checks upon arrival in the Schengen area. This is because the route originates outside the Schengen area and the authorities at the final destination would have no way of differentiating between arriving passengers who boarded at the origin and those who joined in the middle. Additionally, travellers are required to process through Schengen exit border checks upon departure.
A Schengen state is permitted to reinstate border controls with another Schengen country for a short period where there is a serious threat to that state's "public policy or internal security" or when the "control of an external border is no longer ensured due to exceptional circumstances". When such risks arise out of foreseeable events, the state in question must notify the European Commission in advance and consult with other Schengen states.
Estonia introduced temporary checks in September 2014 due to the visit of US President Barack Obama.
Following the Tunisian Revolution of 2010–11, the government of Italy gave six-month residence permits to some 25,000 Tunisian migrants. This allowed the migrants to travel freely in the Schengen Area. In response, both France and Germany threatened to impose border checks, not wanting the Tunisian refugees to enter their territory. In April 2011, for several hours, France blocked trains carrying the migrants at the French/Italian border at Ventimiglia.
At the request of France, in May 2011 the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström proposed that more latitude would be available for the temporary re-establishment of border control in the case of strong and unexpected migratory pressure, or the failure of a state to protect the external borders of the EU.
On 25 July 2011, in delivering the European Commission's final assessment on the measures taken by Italy and France, the Home Affairs Commissioner said, "[f]rom a formal point of view steps taken by Italian and French authorities have been in compliance with EU law. However, I regret that the spirit of the Schengen rules has not been fully respected". Ms. Malmström also called for a more coherent interpretation of the Schengen rules and a stronger evaluation and monitoring system for the Schengen Area.
During the migrant crisis of September 2015, Germany announced it was temporarily bringing border controls back in accordance with the provisions on temporary border controls laid down by the Schengen acquis. Such border controls appear to be an attempt to prevent disorder from making the crisis worse. Open borders appeared to have impeded Germany's ability to provide for very large numbers of persons seeking refuge all at once. Germany signals the border controls are only temporary, and only to support an orderly flow of migration into the area.
Other countries, including Austria, Denmark, Slovenia, Hungary, Sweden and Norway have set up border controls in response to the crisis.
In December 2015, Sweden passed a temporary law that allows the government to oblige all transport companies to check that their passengers carry valid photographic identification. The new law came into effect on 21 December 2015 and is valid until 21 December 2018. The government decided that the new rules will apply from 4 January 2016 until 4 July 2016. The new law led to the mandatory train change and passage though border control at Copenhagen Airport for travellers between Copenhagen and Sweden, and with a reduction in service frequency. Sweden introduced border control from Denmark earlier (15 November 2015), but that could not stop the migrant flow, since they have the right to apply for asylum once on Swedish ground. First when the transport companies had to stop foreigners on the Danish side, asylum seekers were efficiently stopped. This caused considerable disruption to the train traffic since the railway station did not have capacity for such checks. These checks lasted until 4 May 2017, after the EU commission declared such checks not acceptable.
On 30 May 2018, when the migrant crisis border controls were still active in some countries, the European Parliament decided to condemn prolonged border checks between Schengen area member countries. But this was only a statement as the Parliament does not decide this.
After the November 2015 Paris attacks, France introduced full identity and nationality checks at its borders.
Regulation of external borders
Participating countries are required to apply strict checks on travellers entering and exiting the Schengen Area. These checks are co-ordinated by the European Union's Frontex agency, and subject to common rules. The details of border controls, surveillance and the conditions under which permission to enter into the Schengen Area may be granted are exhaustively detailed in the Schengen Borders Code.
All persons crossing external borders—inbound or outbound—are subject to a check by a border guard. The only exception is for regular cross-border commuters (both those with the right of free movement and third-country nationals) who are well known to the border guards: once an initial check has shown that there is no alert on record relating to them in the Schengen Information System or national databases, they can only be subject to occasional 'random' checks, rather than systematic checks every time they cross the border.
Previously, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, as well as their family members enjoying the right of free movement, were subject only to a 'minimum check' when crossing external borders. This meant that their travel document was subject only to a 'rapid' and 'straightforward' visual inspection and an optional check against databases for lost/stolen travel documents. Consultation of the Schengen Information System and other national databases to ensure that the traveller did not represent a security, public policy or health threat was only permitted on a strictly 'non-systematic' basis where such a threat was 'genuine', 'present' and 'sufficiently serious'. In contrast, other travellers were subject to a 'thorough check'.
However, in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris, during a meeting of the Council of the European Union on 20 November 2015, interior ministers from the Member States decided to 'implement immediately the necessary systematic and coordinated checks at external borders, including on individuals enjoying the right of free movement'. Amendments were made to the Schengen Border Code to introduce systematic checks of the travel documents of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, as well as their family members enjoying the right of free movement, against relevant databases when crossing external borders. The new regime came into force on 7 April 2017.
Where carrying out systematic checks against databases would have a disproportionate impact on the flow of traffic at an external border, such checks may be relaxed if, on the basis of a risk assessment, it is determined that it would not lead to a security risk.
As shown by the table above, because many procedures are optional, border guards have discretion in deciding how rigorously they check travellers at external border crossing points. As a result, the length of time taken to perform checks differs between Schengen countries. Under the previous regime (whereby those with the right to freedom of movement were subject only to a 'minimum check'), an entry check for an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen took around five seconds on average in Italy, whilst in Norway, on average it took around 1 minute. The disparities in checks on third-country nationals (who are subject to a more thorough check) are even greater. For example, an entry check for an Annex II national takes around 15 seconds on average in Greece, whilst it takes three to five minutes on average in Slovakia. Similarly, an entry check for an Annex I national on average lasts around 30–60 seconds in The Netherlands, whilst in Latvia, it lasts around two to five minutes on average.
After the new regime came into force on 7 April 2017, significantly longer waiting times were reported at numerous external border crossing points, especially as it was just before the Easter holiday. Travellers entering Slovenia from Croatia (which, though a European Union member state, is not yet part of the Schengen Area) had to wait several hours as Slovenian border guards systematically checked the travel documents of all travellers (including those with the right of free movement) against relevant databases. The Prime Minister of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, acknowledged that the situation was 'unacceptable'. In order to alleviate the long queues, the systematic checking of travel documents of those with the right of free movement against relevant databases was temporarily suspended from the evening of Friday 7 April 2017 until the end of the weekend. However, the following weekend, long queues re-appeared. The Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, criticised the situation, calling it 'unsustainable', and expressed concern about the impact on tourism (which accounts for 18% of Croatia's GDP). The President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, sent a formal letter to the European Commission to voice her concern about the effect of the new regime on border checks. At a meeting held on 29 April 2017, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, Cerar and Plenković agreed that, moving forward, the systematic checking of the travel documents of those with the right of free movement against relevant databases would be suspended at land border crossing points between Croatia and Slovenia if the waiting time exceeds 15 minutes (with 'targeted checks' being carried out instead). Long queues were also reported at external border crossing points in Greece, where the leadership of the Hellenic Police (which is responsible for border checks) decided to suspend, for a period of 6 months, the systematic checking of travel documents of those with the right of free movement against relevant databases (with the exception of the Kipoi land border crossing point with Turkey, due to security concerns). Greece was particularly affected by the implementation of the new regime as Greek identity cards are not machine-readable, which meant that border guards had to enter the holder's information manually into the computer system to check the relevant databases if a Greek citizen presented an identity card instead of a passport. Similarly, long waiting times were reported at external border crossing points in France and Spain. Finland, Hungary and Italy also issued notifications suspending systematic checks at some external border crossing points. In July 2017, Greece submitted a request to suspend the systematic checking of travel documents of those with the right of free movement against relevant databases for a further period of 18 months, due to 'infrastructure shortcomings and increased traffic at 12 airports across the country'.
When carrying out checks at external borders, border guards are, by law, required to respect the dignity of travellers (particularly in cases involving vulnerable persons) and are forbidden from discriminating against persons based on their sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
External border controls are located at roads crossing a border, at airports, at seaports and on board trains. Usually, there is no fence along the land border, but there are exceptions like the Ceuta border fence, and some places at the eastern border. However, surveillance camera systems, some equipped with infrared technology, are located at some more critical spots, for example at the border between Slovakia and Ukraine, where at some points there is a camera every 186 metres (203 yards).
All travellers arriving from outside the Schengen Area using their own air plane or boat, have to go directly to an airport or seaport having a border control. This is a loophole hard to check, and large-scale drug smuggling using sail boats has been found. Along the southern coast of the Schengen countries, coast guards make a substantial effort to prevent private boats from entering without permission.
At many external border crossing points, there are special lanes for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens (as well as their family members) and other lanes for all travellers regardless of nationality. At some external border crossing points, there is a third type of lane for travellers who are Annex II nationals (i.e. non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens who are exempt from the visa requirement). Although Andorran and San Marinese citizens are not EU or EEA citizens, they are nonetheless able to use the special lanes designated for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. British citizens will not be able to use the EU lane after Brexit as the rules stand, unless such a right are negotiated into the Brexit agreement with the EU.
The additional obligations imposed by European law on national border authorities when it comes to processing travellers who are third-country nationals (e.g. the obligation to stamp their travel documents) should not prevent the development of automated border control systems which are made available to such travellers. As shown by the examples listed above of automated border control systems which have been developed at external border crossing points of the Schengen Area, national border authorities have been able to adapt the design of their automated border control systems to allow third-country nationals to make use of them. One solution is to have a border guard physically positioned next to the automated border gates who can stamp travel documents where required: this approach has been adopted by the Finnish Border Guard at the automated border gates in Helsinki Airport, where eligible users (who are required to receive a passport stamp) include holders of Australian, Canadian, Japanese, New Zealand, South Korean and United States biometric passports, as well as by the Portuguese Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras at the automated border gates in Lisbon Airport where eligible users (who are required to receive a passport stamp) include holders of Angolan and Brazilian passports and holders of diplomatic/service passports. A similar but slightly different solution has been adopted by the Dutch Royal Marechaussee at the Privium iris recognition automated border gates at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (where eligible users include registered EU/EEA/Swiss citizens, US citizens who are Global Entry members, and all nationals who are holders of diplomatic passports), as well as by the German Federal Police at the ABG Plus iris recognition automated border gates at Frankfurt Airport (where eligible users include registered EU/EEA/Swiss citizens and US citizens who are Global Entry members): when eligible third-country nationals use Privium/ABG Plus, after their iris is scanned and verified, a different gate opens to that for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens and the third-country national is directed to a lane which leads them to the front of the queue for manual passport checks at immigration desks, where the border officer stamps the user's passport. Another possible solution would be to design the automated border gates to print a paper slip with an entry or exit stamp on it, as well as the traveller's name and travel document number, whenever the user is a traveller who is subject to the requirement to have his or her travel document stamped. At the Port of Helsinki, the Finnish Border Guard has adapted the design of the automated border gates there to widen eligibility to include Russian citizens (who, as Annex I nationals, are required to have a visa) by requiring them to scan both the biodata page and the visa inside their passport, then to step into the gate for a facial image and fingerprint recognition, and after the gate opens to approach a border officer to have their passport stamped.
Sometimes, external border controls are located on non-Schengen territory, but inside the EU. For example, France operates border checks at juxtaposed controls on travellers departing the United Kingdom for the Schengen Area before they board their train or ferry at St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International railway stations, as well as at the Port of Dover and Cheriton Eurotunnel terminal.
In November 2016 the European Commission proposed a system for an electronic authorisation of visa-exempt third country nationals called ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). Under the proposal the ETIAS will be managed by the European Border and Coast Guard in cooperation with national authorities. Foreign visitors will be required to submit personal data in advance and pay a processing fee (fee is waived for children). Submitted applications will be processed automatically by checking against databases and watch lists and in case no issues appear the authorisation should be issued immediately. The authorisation request may be processed for up 72 hours in which case the applicant must be notified if the authorisation request was issued or refused or if additional information is required. In case the authorisation is refused the applicant will have the right of appeal in accordance with national law of the member state. The authorisation will be valid for five years. A travel authorisation with limited territorial validity may be issued only exceptionally. It is imagined as a system similar to the ESTA system of the United States and the ETA system of Canada. It is expected to enter into operation on 1 January 2020. The cost for developing ETIAS is estimated at €212.1 million.
ETIAS requirements will not apply to:
- citizens of states belonging to EU or the Schengen area
- people who need a Schengen visa
- citizens of the micro-states Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican
- local border traffic permit holders
- holders of diplomatic passports
- crew members on duty
- family members of EU citizens holding a valid residence card
- nationals of a third country enjoying the right to free movement holding a valid residence card
- recognised refugees or stateless person residing in one of the member states and holding a travel document issued there
- visits to the United Kingdom (also pre-Brexit) or Ireland (as EU states that have opted out of Schengen),
In addition to visa-exempt third country nationals, the ETIAS requirements will also apply to
- non-national family members of EU citizens not holding a valid residence card
- nationals of a third country enjoying the right to free movement but who do not hold a valid residence card
- visits to Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania (even if those EU states have yet to accede to the Schengen Agreement, because the Schengen Borders Code (2016/399) rules on "Entry conditions for third-country nationals" apply to these countries).
- visits to Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (as they are Schengen countries)
In addition, EU citizens who have multiple citizenship will be obliged to use a passport issued by an EU Member State for entering the Schengen area if they are to exercise their right of visa-free/ETIAS-free entry.
Schengen rules require that all carriers conveying passenger across the Schengen external border must check, before boarding, that passengers have the correct travel documents and visas required for entry. There are penalties for carriers who transport foreign nationals without correct travel documents. This works like juxtaposed controls and is more efficient than border control on arrival, since immigrants have the right to apply for asylum at passport control at ports of entry in the EU. Such applications must be done in person in the country the application is aimed at. Preventing immigrants from boarding aircraft or boats prevents them from applying for asylum.
The rules applicable to short-term entry visas into the Schengen Area are set out in EU regulations which contain two lists: a list of the nationalities (or classes of travel document holder) which require a visa for a short-term stay (the Annex I list) and a list which do not (the Annex II list).
Being listed in the visa-free list will sometimes but not always exempt the listed nationality or class from the requirement to obtain a work permit if they wish to take up employment or self-employed activity during their stay; business trips are not normally considered employment in this sense.
In accordance with the guidelines of the European Union, any Schengen visa application has to be accompanied by a payment of visa fees. The fees (processing + visa) are to be paid on the day the application is being submitted and are normally payable only in the local currency equivalent. They are not refundable regardless of the outcome of the application. However, discounted fees are provided to some groups; and are waived for pupils/students on an official school/university trip, spouses and minor children of EU nationals, and children below six years of age regardless of nationality.
A Schengen visa or a visa exemption does not entitle the traveller to enter the Schengen area, but rather allows the traveller to seek entry at the port. The Schengen Borders Code lists requirements which third-country nationals must meet to be allowed into the Schengen Area. For this purpose, a third-country national is a person who does not enjoy the right of free movement (i.e. a person who is not an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, nor a family member of such a person who is in possession of a residence permit with the indication "family member of an EU citizen" or "family member of an EEA or CH citizen").
The entry requirements for third country nationals who intend to stay in the Schengen Area for not more than 90 days in any 180-day period are as follows:
- The traveller is in possession of a valid travel document or documents authorising them to cross the border (a visa is not considered a travel document in this sense); the acceptance of travel documents for this purpose remains within the domain of the member states;
- The travel document must be valid for at least 3 months after the intended date of departure from the Schengen Area (although in a justified case of emergency, this obligation may be waived) and must have been issued within the previous 10 years;
- The traveller either possesses a valid visa (if required) or a valid residence permit;
- The traveller can justify the purpose and conditions of the intended stay and has sufficient means of subsistence, both for the duration of the intended stay and for the return to his or her country of origin or transit to a third country into which the traveller is certain to be admitted, or is in a position to acquire such means lawfully;
- The Schengen Information System does not contain a refusal of entry alert concerning the traveller, and
- The traveller is not considered to be a threat to public policy, internal security, public health or the international relations of any of the Schengen states.
However, even if the third-country national does not fulfil the criteria for entry, admission may still be granted:
- On humanitarian grounds
- On grounds of national interests
- On grounds of international obligations
- If the person is not in possession of a visa, but fulfils the criteria for being issued a visa at the border
- If the person holds a residence permit or a re-entry visa issued by a Schengen state
Border guards are required to stamp the travel documents of third-country nationals when they cross external borders. However, nationals of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City are exempt from this requirement, as are heads of state, whose visits were announced through diplomatic channels, and holders of local border traffic permits and residence permits. Certain exemptions also apply to the crews of ships and aircraft. Third-country nationals who otherwise fulfil all the criteria for admission into the Schengen area must not be denied entry for the sole reason that there is no remaining empty space in their travel document to affix a stamp; instead, the stamp should be affixed on a separate sheet of paper.
For stays in the Schengen Area as a whole which exceed 90 days, a third-country national will need to hold either a long-stay visa for a period no longer than a year, or a residence permit for longer periods. A long-stay visa is a national visa but is issued in accordance with a uniform format. It entitles the holder to enter the Schengen Area and remain in the issuing state for a period longer than 90 days but no more than one year. If a Schengen state wishes to allow the holder of a long-stay visa to remain there for longer than a year, the state must issue him or her with a residence permit.
The holder of a long-stay visa or a residence permit is entitled to move freely within other states which compose the Schengen Area for a period of up to three months in any half-year. Third-country nationals who are long-term residents in a Schengen state may also acquire the right to move to and settle in another Schengen state without losing their legal status and social benefits.
Asylum seekers who request international protection under the Geneva Convention from a Schengen member state are not issued a residence permit, but are instead issued, within three days of the application being lodged, an authorisation to remain on the territory of the member state while the application is pending or being examined. This means that, whilst their application for refugee status is being processed, asylum seekers are only permitted to remain in the Schengen member state where they have claimed asylum and are not entitled to move freely within other states which compose the Schengen Area. Successful applicants who have been granted international protection by a Schengen member state are issued residence permits which are valid for at least three years and renewable, whilst applicants granted subsidiary protection by a Schengen member state are issued residence permits valid for at least 1-year and renewable, unless there are compelling reasons relating to national security or public order. Family members of beneficiaries of international or subsidiary protection from a Schengen member state are issued residence permits as well, but their validity can be shorter. Applicants who have been granted temporary protection by a Schengen member state (as well as their reunited family members) are issued residence permits valid for the entire period of temporary protection.
However, some third-country nationals are permitted to stay in the Schengen Area for more than 90 days without the need to apply for a long-stay visa. For example, France does not require citizens of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City to apply for a long-stay visa. In addition, Article 20(2) of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement allows for this 'in exceptional circumstances' and for bilateral agreements concluded by individual signatory states with other countries before the Convention entered into force to remain applicable. As a result, for example, New Zealand citizens are permitted to stay for up to 90 days in each of the Schengen countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) which had already concluded bilateral visa exemption agreements with the New Zealand Government prior to the Convention entering into force without the need to apply for long-stay visas, but if travelling to other Schengen countries the 90 days in a 180-day period time limit applies.
The right of entry into the EEA and Switzerland (includes all EU and EEA countries and Switzerland) without additional visa was extended to the third-country family members of EEA nationals exercising their treaty right of free movement who hold a valid residence card of their EEA host country and wish to visit any other EEA member state for a short stay up to 90 days. This is implied in Directive 2004/38/EC, Article 5(2) provided that they travel together with the EEA national or join their spouse/partner at a later date (Article 6(2)). If the non-EEA family member has neither an EEA residence card nor a visa, but can show their family tie with the EU national by other means, then a visa must be issued at the border free of charge and entry permitted.
However, this requirement has (as of December 2008) been incorrectly transposed into Belgian, Latvian and Swedish law, and not transposed at all by Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Lithuania, Germany and Slovenia. Five member states (as of December 2008), do not follow the Directive to the effect that non-EEA family members may still face difficulties (denial of boarding the vessel by the transport company, denial to enter by border police) when travelling to those states using their residence card gained in another EU country. A visa or other document(s) may still be required.
For example, the UK interprets "residence card" in Article 5(2) of the Directive to mean "UK" residence card, and ignores other cards, instead requiring an "EEA family permit" contrary to the Directive. Showing the family tie with the EU national by other means (as mentioned above) should circumvent this. Denmark and Ireland do not prescribe that a valid residence card will exempt non-EEA family members from the visa requirement. Spain only permits residence cards from Schengen countries, therefore cards from the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus are not allowed. The Spanish legislation is not in conformity with the Directive. Austria, somewhat like the UK, seems to require a permanent residence card issued by the Austrian authorities to enter without visa.
As of 6 April 2015, the non-EU family members of an EU national who are in possession of a residence card, which is issued to them under article 10 of directive 2004/38/EC, are entitled to enter the UK without the need to apply for an EEA Family Permit or a Visa, only by providing their residence card at the border. However, the UK border officers would grant entry to non-EU family members if they can prove their relation to the EU national family member who would be accompanying them, by providing documents such as marriage certificate or birth certificate. Entering the UK as the holder of an Article 10 residence card 
Schengen states which share an external land border with a non-EU member state are authorised by virtue of the EU Regulation 1931/2006 to conclude or maintain bilateral agreements with neighbouring third countries for the purpose of implementing a local border traffic regime. Such agreements define a border area which may extend to a maximum of 50 kilometres (31 mi) on either side of the border, and provide for the issuance of local border traffic permits to residents of the border area. Permits may be used to cross the EU external border within the border area, are not stamped on crossing the border and must display the holder's name and photograph, as well as a statement that its holder is not authorised to move outside the border area and that any abuse shall be subject to penalties.
Permits are issued with a validity period of between one and five years and allow for a stay in the border area of up to three months. Permits may only be issued to lawful residents of the border area who have been resident in the border area for a minimum of one year (or longer if specified by the bilateral agreement). Applicants for a permit have to show that they have legitimate reasons to cross frequently an external land border under the local border traffic regime. Schengen states must keep a central register of the permits issued and have to provide immediate access to the relevant data to other Schengen states.
Holders of local border traffic permits are able to spend up to 3 months every time they enter the border area of the country which has issued the permit (this time limit is far more generous than the "90 days in a 180-day period" normally granted to third-country nationals visiting the Schengen Area).
Before the conclusion of an agreement with a neighbouring country, the Schengen state must receive approval from the European Commission, which has to confirm that the draft agreement is in conformity with the Regulation. The agreement may only be concluded if the neighbouring state grants at least reciprocal rights to EEA and Swiss nationals resident on the Schengen side of the border area, and agrees to the repatriation of individuals found to be abusing the border agreement.
As of June 2017 ten local-traffic agreements have come into force.
- Hungary–Ukraine from January 2008.
- Slovakia–Ukraine from September 2008.
- Poland–Ukraine in July 2009.
- Romania–Moldova from October 2010.
- Latvia–Belarus from February 2012.
- Norway–Russia from May 2012.
- Poland–Russia (Kaliningrad Area) from July 2012
- Latvia–Russia from June 2013.
- Romania–Ukraine from May 2015.
- An agreement between Croatia–Bosnia and Herzegovina is applied on provisional basis, pending ratification.
There are or have been plans for Lithuania–Russia, Poland–Belarus, Bulgaria–Serbia and Bulgaria–North Macedonia. The agreement between Poland and Belarus had been due to enter into force by 2012, but was delayed by Belarus, with no implementation date set (as of Oct 2012).
In late 2009, Norway began issuing one-year multiple-entry visas, without the usual requirement of having family or a business partner in Norway, called Pomor-Visas, to Russians from Murmansk Oblast, and later to those from Arkhangelsk Oblast. Finland is not planning border permits, but has issued over one million regular visas for Russians in 2011, and many of them multiple-entry visas. The EU was planning to allow up to 5-year validity on multiple-entry visas for Russians.
There is also a similar system for local border traffic permits between Spain and Morocco regarding Ceuta and Melilla. This system is older and was included in the 1991 accession treaty of Spain to the Schengen Area. In this case there are identity checks for anyone travelling to other parts of the Schengen Area (possible by boat and air only). Such checks are not the rule for other local border traffic zones.
Citizens of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia can enter the Schengen Area without a visa. On 30 November 2009, the EU Council of Ministers for Interior and Justice abolished visa requirements for citizens of Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia, while on 8 November 2010 it did the same for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The former took effect on 19 December 2009, while the latter on 15 December 2010.
On 4 May 2016, the European Commission proposed visa-free travel for the citizens of Kosovo. The European Commission has proposed to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to lift the visa requirements for the people of Kosovo by transferring Kosovo to the visa-free list for short-stays in the Schengen area. The proposal is presented together with the Commission's positive assessment confirming that Kosovo has fulfilled the requirements of its visa liberalisation roadmap.
The European Commission launched a visa liberalisation dialogue with Kosovo on 19 January 2012. In June 2012, the Commission handed over a roadmap on visa liberalisation to the Kosovo authorities, which identified the legislation and institutional measures that Kosovo needed to adopt and implement to advance towards visa liberalisation.
Visa liberalisation negotiations between the EU and the Western Balkans (excluding Kosovo) were launched in the first half of 2008, and ended in 2009 (for Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia) and 2010 (for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina). Before visas were fully abolished, the Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia) had signed "visa facilitation agreements" with the Schengen states in 2008. The visa facilitation agreements were, at the time, supposed to shorten waiting periods, lower visa fees (including free visas for certain categories of travellers), and reduce paperwork. In practice, however, the new procedures turned out to be longer, more cumbersome, more expensive, and many people complained that it was easier to obtain visas before the facilitation agreements entered into force.
Police and judicial co-operation
To counter the potentially aggravating effects of the abolition of border controls on undocumented immigration and cross-border crime, the Schengen acquis contains compensatory police and judicial measures. Chief among these is the Schengen Information System (SIS), a database operated by all EU and Schengen states and which by January 2010 contained in excess of 30 million entries and by January 2014 contained in excess of 50 million entries, according to a document published in June 2015 by the Council of the European Union. Around 1 million of the entries relate to persons, 72% of which were not allowed to enter and stay in the Schengen area. Only 7% of persons listed on the SIS database were missing persons.
The vast majority of data entries on the SIS, around 49 million, concern lost or stolen objects. The European Council reports that in 2013 an average of 43 stolen vehicles a day were detected by authorities using the SIS database.
A list of EU authorities with access to SIS is published annually in the Official Journal of the European Union. As at 24 June 2015, 235 authorities can use the SIS database. The SIS database is operationally managed by EU-LISA.
The Schengen Agreement also allows police officers from one participating state to follow suspects across borders both in hot pursuit and to continue observation operations, and for enhanced mutual assistance in criminal matters.
The legal basis for Schengen in the treaties of the European Union has been inserted in the Treaty establishing the European Community through Article 2, point 15 of the Treaty of Amsterdam. This inserted a new title named "Visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to free movement of persons" into the treaty, currently numbered as Title IV, and comprising articles 61 to 69. The Treaty of Lisbon substantially amends the provisions of the articles in the title, renames the title to "Area of freedom, security and justice" and divides it into five chapters, called "General provisions", "Policies on border checks, asylum and immigration", "Judicial cooperation in civil matters", "Judicial cooperation in criminal matters", and "Police cooperation".
The Schengen Area originally had its legal basis outside the then European Economic Community, having been established by a sub-set of member states of the Community using two international agreements:
- The 1985 Schengen Agreement – Agreement between the Governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the gradual abolition of checks at their common borders.
- The 1990 Schengen Convention – Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 between the Governments of the States of the Benelux Economic Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic on the gradual abolition of checks at their common borders.
On being incorporated into the main body of European Union law by the Amsterdam Treaty, the Schengen Agreement and Convention were published in the Official Journal of the European Communities by a decision of the Council of Ministers. As a result, the Agreement and Convention can be amended by regulations.