Traveling to the Schengen Area — What You Need to Know

02.16.23 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images

Information about visa requirements for some travelers visiting Europe’s Schengen Area has caused some  confusion. In an effort to help you, we’ve gathered some basic information to help sort out some of the most common elements raising questions.

What countries make up the Schengen area?

The Schengen Area is a zone of 26 European countries that have abolished their internal borders for the free and unrestricted movement of their people. They’ve chosen to establish common rules for border control, fighting crime and strengthening common judicial systems. Although most of the Schengen countries are in the European Union, the Schengen Area shouldn’t be confused with the EU itself, as certain members are not EU countries (such as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein). A holder of a Uniform Schengen visa can travel to all 26 member countries of the Schengen Area.

These countries include:

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, and Switzerland.

Are U.S. citizens required to get a Schengen visa?

Citizens of the United States can travel to the 26 European member countries of the Schengen Area without a visa if they have a valid U.S. passport. This is valid for up to 90 days for short-term tourism or a business trip (90 days within a 180 day period). Be aware however, you will be asked by border guard to present:

  • A current U.S. passport that’s valid for at least three additional months beyond travel dates.
  • Evidence of purpose of entry — documents showing why you are traveling to the Schengen Area.
  • Proof of sufficient financial means, via documents that show you can support yourself during your whole stay in Europe.

Certain situations can change this rule however:

  • U.S. residents of another nationality (non-Americans residing in the U.S.) — coming from countries that have not established a visa-free regime with the EU — will have to apply for a Schengen visa in order to enter.
  • If you have been rejected from entering the Schengen Area as a U.S. citizen in the past, you will need to apply for a Schengen visa in the United States. You can apply at the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit, located in the U.S. or other 3rd party visa services.
  • US Green Card holders, who are also nationals of third world countries that haven't established a visa-free regime with the EU, will need to obtain a Schengen Visa.
  • If you're traveling to the Czech Republic to work or study, you'll be required to obtain a visa.

Who is required to get a Schengen Visa?

The answer to this question hinges on where you hold your citizenship. If you're a citizen of any of the countries required to obtain a Schengen visa, you’ll be among those having to go through the necessary visa process and interviews granting permission to enter.

In addition, there are citizens of specific countries which also need an airport transit visa in order to change planes or disembark from a ship in a Schengen Area country. To be safe, check the complete list of required citizens of these countries, documents required for travelers and seafarers, when and how to apply.

What's coming in 2023?    

Currently there are 61 countries not in the EU, but are visa-free (including American citizens as stated earlier). Citizens of these countries are allowed to travel in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days for business or tourism (not study).

As of 2021, citizens of all these countries will need security approval by filling out a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) online application. This is not a visa, rather a way for them to keep track of visa-free visitors to assure they are not a security threat. This process allows EU authorities to pre-screen all travelers and confirm their status before entry — or even boarding a flight — to Europe. If you need to remain longer than the allotted 90 days, you must apply for a residency permit. If you don’t, you risk fines and deportation. In addition to business and tourist purposes, the ETIAS will also allow people to visit the Schengen Area for medical and transit reasons.

Starting in November 2023, travelers from non-EU countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK will need a valid Etias to enter 30 countries in the Schengen area, including France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.

The Etias waiver will be mandatory for travelers from more than 50 non-EU countries if they’re planning to visit Europe for less than 90 days (including transit). Anyone from a non-EU country planning to work, study or live in Europe for more than 90 days will apply for a visa.

You’ll be able to apply for an Etias online. The process will take about 10 minutes, and most applications should be approved, but processing could take up to a month. If your application is unsuccessful, you'll have the opportunity to appeal the decision.

Is travel insurance required?

The only people for which having a covered insurance policy is a mandatory requirement are visa nationalities. Anyone traveling temporarily to Europe from a country subject to visa requirements — be it an individual or group visitors, tourists, or business travelers — must purchase and have proof of travel insurance. A letter of proof from your insurance company — including a statement of coverage in Europe for any medical, repatriation and evacuation expenses for all dates of travel — is required. Coverage must be for a minimum €30,000 euro (roughly $31,000 depending on the exchange rate).

We recommend purchasing a travel insurance policy regardless of whether it’s required or not — giving you the peace of mind of coverage in the event of unexpected expenses or emergencies.

The European Schengen Area is actually the largest visa-free zone in the world. Now that you’re armed with the basics, you can travel to these regions with confidence. At Travelex, we are committed to providing quality travel protection for you and your family. Contact us to learn more about how we can help keep you protected while traveling to the Schengen Area.

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