What is the Schengen Area?


3 minutes

What is the Schengen Area and how does it affect Americans traveling to Europe?

If you’ve ever traveled from one country to another within the European Union without going through a border check, you can thank the Schengen Agreement. This treaty allows citizens of many countries to pass easily between separate nations within the “Schengen Area.”

The Schengen Area consists of 26 countries, most (but not all) of which are EU members states.

A map of the Schengen Area countries
A map of the Schengen Area countries
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

A very brief history

In 1985, the first five Schengen countries (France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) signed on to the Agreement (near Schengen in Luxembourg). These individual countries cooperated to abolish checks at their common borders. The Schengen Area was officially established in March 1995 with seven countries participating. Since then, more countries have signed the agreement and entered the Area. In 1999, the Agreement was incorporated into European Union Law.

How does the Schengen Area differ from the European Union?

The Schengen Area and the EU are two different entities. The EU serves as an economic and political union that determines trade, agriculture, and regional development relations between the participating countries.

The Schengen Area, on the other hand, allows people to move freely between the countries who have entered the Schengen Agreement. The EU consists of 28 member countries, while the Schengen Area includes 26 of those, with the UK and Ireland opting out. In addition to the 26 EU countries, four non-EU countries are also members of the Schengen Area: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, as well as the microstates of Monaco, Vatican City, and San Marino.

It’s easy to travel within the Schengen Area as long as you follow the requirements
It’s easy to travel within the Schengen Area as long as you follow the requirements
Image courtesy of Pexels

What should I know before traveling to the Schengen Area?

  • U.S. citizens can travel within and between Schengen Area countries for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.
  • Not all European countries are part of the Schengen Area, so be sure to check what other documentation you’ll need to visit non-Schengen countries within Europe.
  • Most countries will accept the Euro, but that is not a rule. Do some research to find out whether the country you are traveling to accepts Euros or uses their own currency.
  • Starting in 2021, Americans headed to Schengen Area countries will need to register with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) before traveling.

The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985
The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985
Image courtesy of Pexels

How long can I stay?

As a U.S. citizen, you can travel without a visa in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within any 180-day period. Starting in 2021, U.S. citizens will need to obtain authorization before traveling to the Schengen Area by registering with an online system called ETIAS. While each ETIAS authorization will be valid for three years, the same maximum 90-day stay will apply.

Italy is one of the member countries of the Schengen Area
Italy is one of the member countries of the Schengen Area
Image courtesy of Pexels

What countries does this include?

The Schengen Area currently consists of 26 countries, mostly in the European Union, including 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*.

Four non-EU countries are also members of the Schengen Area - Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, as well as the microstates of Monaco, Vatican City, and San Marino.

Melissa Horine

Melissa worked with InterExchange between 2016 and 2019, helping U.S. citizens planning to travel abroad. She traveled to Spain and Ghana before moving to Japan for three years. She now lives in the almost-foreign country of New York City.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation