For many Europeans the Schengen Visa is something they have probably heard of but is of little significance. This is because, as citizens of the European Union, a valid passport is usually all that is required to travel, work or study in any of the 28 member countries which includes most of the Schengen states. However, for non-EU and non-Schengen visitors to Europe it may be mandatory to have a valid visa before arriving in Europe.
Because of existing agreements, citizens of many countries do not currently require a visa or permit of any sort to visit Europe for a short stay be it for business or pleasure. Presently there are 62 countries that are neither in the European Union nor Schengen whose citizens do not require any sort of visa to travel to or within Europe. This situation will change in the coming years with the introduction of ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) scheduled to come into effect in 2020.
Schengen or European Visa (ETIAS)?
There are 26 Schengen “States” while the European Union comprises 28 member countries. While there is a considerable overlap in countries that belong to both entities there are important differences.
The following six countries are EU members but NOT Schengen states:
- United Kingdom
- Republic of Ireland
However, the last two, Bulgaria and Romania, have applied for Schengen membership.
Conversely, four Schengen states that are NOT members of the EU are:
These distinctions are vital in determining whether a Schengen or European Visa is required when travelling to and within Europe.
What is a Schengen Visa?
The visa is an official authorisation which allows the holder to either:
- Transit through airports of the designated Schengen state
- Stay within the designated Schengen state (or states)
The visa is valid for a period of up to 90 days in any given 180 day period of time.
Who Must Have a Visa to Travel?
From Afghanistan to Zambia, there are numerous countries whose citizens must hold a visa to visit any of the 26 Schengen member states. Currently, the list comprises about 111 countries across the globe but this number is changing constantly as world politics and government policies change. A reliable source for the most up-to-date list of countries is schengenvisainfo.com.
Where to Apply
Applying for a visa to visit a Schengen state must be made in person at the consulate of the intended destination country. If the intention is to visit more than one country in the Schengen area then the application should be lodged with the consulate of that country in which the longest stay is planned. For stays of equal length in more than one country the visa application must be made to the consulate of the country whose external borders will be crossed first.
It may, in some instances, be necessary to make an appointment with the consulate responsible to lodge the visa application.
An application for a visa should be submitted at least 15 days before the intended date of travel but travellers should be aware that approval can take longer than this minimum stated period and the granting of a visa can sometimes take 30 days or even go as high as 60 days in certain circumstances. These longer processing times may be caused by:
- More detailed examination and checking of the application
- The need for additional documentation
- Consultation with other Schengen States regarding applications from certain countries
- Consultation between members for visa applications to more than one Schengen state
It should be noted that visa applications cannot be submitted any earlier than three months preceding the first day of intended travel.
The following are required in order to apply for and receive a visa:
- Fully completed and signed Schengen Visa application form
- Recent, acceptable identity photograph meeting the requirements
- An up-to-date and valid passport
- Payment of required Schengen Visa fee
- Passport must be valid for a minimum of 3 months past the last day of intended visit
- Passport must have a minimum of two empty pages for entry and exit stamps
- Fingerprints may be required for Schengen states operating the Visa Information System (VIS)
- Medical insurance valid for the whole Schengen area for the duration of the stay
- Documentation detailing the purpose of the stay, evidence showing means of support and accommodation arrangements
In some cases further details and information may be required or it may be necessary to attend a personal interview.
Visa Refusal and Appeal
A refusal of a visa application is notified to the applicant via a standard form and will be accompanied by the reason (or reasons) for the refusal. Details for appealing the refusal (and the deadline for doing so) will also be given. The grounds for refusal should be noted and addressed before reapplying and a new application submitted with the relevant paperwork and visa fee. The fee paid for the original application is forfeited as it is used to pay for examination and processing of the first application.