Understanding the Schengen Area

The Schengen Area comprises of 26 European states: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are in the process of joining the Schengen Area but the timeline for their entry has not been decided yet. Schengen Area states do not have any passport or border control between their mutual borders and share common visa policies for short stays of less than 90 days per 180 days, and for transit through Schengen Area airports.

Travellers needing a Schengen Visa

Certain citizens from non-EU countries require a visa to enter the Schengen Area. If you are a citizen of these non-exempt countries, you will need a Schengen Visa.

Schengen Visa Application Timelines

Visas should be applied for as early as possible. An appointment may be required to submit a visa application. In most cases, an appointment should be available within 15 days. Applications are accepted no earlier than 90 days before the applicant intends on arriving in the Schengen Area. Applicants are advised not to submit their application later than 15 days before their scheduled departure date. Applications submitted after this time might be accepted, but the applicant will be informed that they may not receive a judgement before their intended departure date.

Submitting a Schengen Visa Application

Submitting a Schengen Visa Application

Generally, Schengen visas are applied for at Schengen Area member states’ embassies or consulates in the applicant’s country of residence. However, visa services are sometimes outsourced to external service providers such as VFS Global.

Selecting the right embassy or consulate for your Schengen Visa Application

The embassy or consulate at which the applicant should submit their application will depend on their travel plans and country of residency. If the applicant is planning on visiting only one Schengen Area country, they should apply at the embassy or consulate of that country. If they are planning on visiting two or more Schengen area countries, they should apply at the embassy or consulate of the country in which they will be spending the most time. If they are not spending a greater amount of time in any one Schengen Area country, they should apply at the embassy or consulate of the country that they will arrive in first, according to their itinerary.

When no relevant Schengen Embassy or Consulate is Located in your country of residence

When a Schengen Area state is not represented by an embassy or consulate in a country, they will usually receive visa applications through a representation agreement with another Schengen Area State’s embassy or consulate, or with an external service provider. A list of representation agreements can usually be found on the website of the Schengen Area member state’s foreign affairs department.

Applying for a Schengen Visa outside your country of residence

The general rule is that visa applications should be made in the applicant’s country of residence. However, in limited circumstances, if the applicant is able to adequately justify their reasons for applying outside of their country of residence, an application may be accepted.

Documents Required for your Schengen Visa Application

The following is a general list of documents required to apply for the visa. However, local requirements can vary, so it is best to check with the relevant embassy, consulate, or external service provider before submitting an application.

  • A passport with at least 3 months validity remaining on it from the final date the applicant is planning on leaving the Schengen Area. The passport will also need to have at least two empty pages.
  • A signed and completed Schengen Visa Application Form.
  • Two passport photographs conforming to ICAO standards.
  • A fee of €60 (€35 for children 6-12. Free for children under 6).
  • Evidence of medical insurance covering the entire period of stay, and valid in the entire Schengen Area. Insurance should cover hospital stays, medical emergencies, and repatriation, and should cover a minimum of €30,000.
  • Evidence of the applicant’s purpose of stay, means of financial support, and accommodation. These documents could include:
    • Return travel tickets
    • Hotel reservations
    • A letter of invitation
    • Bank statements
    • Payslips

    The amount of money the applicant will need to prove varies and can depend on whether or not accommodation is already paid for, so it is best to check with the relevant authorities before making a visa application.

Completing the Schengen Visa Application Form

Schengen Visa Application forms are available to download here. In some cases, it is possible to fill in the application online, but it still needs to be printed and signed. It is important to fill in the form legibly, correctly, and truthfully. Do not leave any spaces blank. If a field is not applicable to the applicant, they should write “Not applicable” or “N/A”.

Schengen Application Processing Timelines

Generally, a decision should be made within 15 days. However, if the application requires a more detailed examination or additional documents, the processing time can be extended to 30 or 60 days.

Schengen Application rejections

Visa applications can be rejected, so it is important to ensure that any travel bookings made before the visa is approved are fully refundable. If a visa application is rejected, a standard form outlining the specific reasons for the rejection will be provided. The applicant has the right to appeal the decision, however, appeals are rarely successful. Therefore, a better course of action is to address the reasons for the previous refusal, then amend and resubmit the application.

Schengen Visa Duration

Each Schengen visa indicates a validity period, a period of stay, and the number of entries. For visas valid for less than 6 months, the validity period will usually be for 15 days longer than the applicant’s intended travel itinerary in the Schengen Area. This allows for some flexibility in dates for entry and departure. The period of stay will generally match the number of days on the applicant’s intended travel itinerary in the Schengen Area. The number of entries can be one, two, or multiple. If the applicant’s itinerary includes a journey that involves leaving and re-entering the Schengen Area, they may be granted a two entry visa. Multiple entry visas allow unlimited re-entries into the Schengen Area within the validity period, and therefore have stricter guidelines, so they may not be granted to first time visa applicants. The visa will become invalid immediately after exceeding the validity period, the period of stay, or the number of entries.

Extending the duration of a Schengen Visa

In most cases, the visa is not extendable. However, an application for extension can be made in an emergency situation, such as a last-minute flight cancellation due to weather, serious illness requiring hospitalization, or a serious personal reason. In the rare case that an extension is granted, the total stay is still not allowed to exceed 90 days per 180 days.