Do I need a Schengen Visa to travel to Europe?

The Schengen Convention was held in Luxembourg in the year 1990. At this convention, it was agreed that internal border controls would be abolished between members of the Schengen Zone. Additionally, it was also agreed that a common visa system should be put in place. These agreements began to be enacted for some of the signatories in 1995 and were fully implemented by 1997. This allowed the populations of these countries and certain others to travel and work without the need for a visa. Originally, this was only a formal agreement between the member countries but it is now a formal part of European law.

The Schengen Zone is comprised of 26 member nations. Of these, 22 are members of the European Union and the other four are European Free Trade Association member states. Only the United Kingdom and Ireland maintain opt-out agreements. The other 4 European countries will be legally required to join the Schengen Zone. These are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania.

While there are no border control checks between these countries, the local authorities are still empowered to carry out police checks at any international border area on people currently visiting the countries. This is part of security precautions in the event that someone is suspected to be a threat.

Border checks for security reasons aside, anyone that is a citizen of any European country or any member of the Schengen Area can cross these international borders freely without any checks or visas. There is a mandatory visa requirement for people who come from other countries visiting any members of the Schengen Zone.

Is a visa required to visit Europe?

Whether or not a visa is required in order to visit a European country depends on the visitor’s country of origin. For countries such as the USA, Australia or a few others, the only requirement to travel to Europe for a holiday of fewer than 3 months is a valid passport.

Afghanistan Guinea Peru (visa not required)
Algeria Guinea-Bissau Philippines
Angola Guyana Qatar
Armenia Haiti Russia
Azerbaijan India Rwanda
Bahrain Indonesia Samoa
Bangladesh Iran Sao Tome And Principe
Belarus Iraq Saudi Arabia
Belize Jamaica Senegal
Benin Jordan Sierra Leone
Bhutan Kazakhstan Solomon Islands (visa not required)
Bolivia Kenya Somalia
Botswana Kiribati (visa not required) South Africa
Burkina Faso Kuwait Sri Lanka
Burma/Myanmar Kyrgyzstan St Lucia (visa not required)
Burundi Laos St Vincent & The Grenadines (visa not required)
Cambodia Lebanon Sudan
Cameroon Lesotho Suriname
Cape Verde Liberia Swaziland
Central African Republic Libya Syria
Chad Madagascar Tajikistan
China Malawi Tanzania
Colombia (visa not required) Maldives Thailand
Comoros Mali Timor-Leste
Congo Marshall Islands Togo
Cote D’ivoire Mauritania Tonga
Cuba Micronesia Trinidad and Tobago (visa not required)
Dem. Rep. Of Congo Moldova (visa not required) Tunisia
Djibouti Mongolia Turkey
Dominica (visa not required) Morocco Turkmenistan
Dominican Republic Mozambique Tuvalu (visa not required)
Ecuador Namibia Uganda
Egypt Nauru Ukraine (visa not required)
Equatorial Guinea Nepal Uzbekistan
Eritrea Niger Vanuatu
Ethiopia Nigeria Vietnam
Fiji North Korea Yemen
Gabon Northern Mariana’s Zambia
Gambia Oman Zimbabwe
Georgia (visa not required) Pakistan Kosova
Ghana Palau
Grenada (visa not required) Papua New Guinea

Anyone travelling from any other country for a reason such as work or education will require the appropriate visa before the trip begins. It is worth noting that anyone travelling to the EU for a period of 3 months or less must have a passport that is valid for 6 months from the date of entry.

Legal permission is always required for any citizen, regardless of the country of origin, who wishes to live or work in the Schengen Zone. This also applies to anyone who wishes to remain within the Schengen zone for a period of more than 90 days every 6 months. Additionally, permission to stay within a Schengen country for more than 90 days does not equal the right to live or work there indefinitely.

In the event that a visitor needs to change plane at an airport in a country within the Schengen Zone, an airport transit visa is available. This does not apply to people whose final destination is another Schengen country since they are treated as if they are simply entering into the Schengen zone. It also does not apply to anyone that does not need to exit the international area of the airport in order to change between flights. Citizens of the following countries are required to obtain an airport transit visa if they are transiting through a Schengen Member Country:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Congo (Drc)
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Somalia
  • Sri Lanka

There are other exceptions which render people exempt from the requirements of an airport visa. If the person already holds a valid Shengen visa for a short or a long stay then they do not require one. If the person is a resident of one of a particular list of countries that includes the USA, Japan and various others then they also do not require an airport visa. Additionally, it is not required if the person travelling holds a valid visa for any of the EFTA countries or one of a few others like Canada. Close family members of EU citizens do not require airport visas. Finally, anyone that holds a diplomatic passport does not require one either.

It should be noted that being a family member of an EU or an EEA national does not guarantee that a Schengen visa will not be required to enter the Schengen Zone. What it does mean is that the processes involved in obtaining the necessary visa will be faster and will be alleviated to some extent.

Regardless, in order to apply, there are certain minimum requirements that must be met. The applicant must be a first-degree family member of an EU or EEA citizen. This means they must be a spouse or partner or they must be a child under 21 years old. Also, the applicant must be travelling with the intent to join their family member and must be able to prove this intent.

In the event that an individual has more than one nationality, their visa requirements will depend on which passport they choose to use when travelling. If they choose to travel using a passport from a country whose residents ordinarily require a visa then they must obtain one. This is the case even if the person’s second passport would normally allow them to travel without a visa, such as one belonging to any of the Schengen Zone member countries.

A D visa allows people to enter a Schengen zone with the intent to live there for a certain period of time. The D visa allows someone to travel to other Schengen countries without an additional visa. However, the duration of this visit is limited to a period of 90 days every 6 months. Obtaining a D visa is also more difficult than obtaining a visitor’s visa.

There has also been a proposal to introduce a new kind of travel authorisation, called the ETIAS, for people who wish to travel to the Schengen Zone. This is based on the American ESTA system. This is in response to growing security concerns following a number of terrorist attacks. The new system would allow the authorities to track who is visiting the EU at any given time. Obtaining one of these passes is still much simpler than obtaining any kind of visa and would only require a small processing fee.