Before discussing the types of Schengen Visas, it is necessary to provide a brief overview of the Schengen Area and the Schengen Member Countries. The Schengen area is broadly the same as the European Union with the addition of Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland who are not EU members.
Conversely, European Union members the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are not included in the Schengen area although the last two named have pending applications to join.
This, in theory, should mean that citizens from the six EU countries that are not Schengen members require a visa to visit a Schengen member state like Norway. This, however, is not the case as the Schengen states operate a visa-exemption policy for citizens of the European Union countries although this will depend on the type of citizenship applicable and passport being used.
There are several types of Schengen Visas, and these are split into Category A, Category C, LTV (Limited Territorial Validity) Visa, Group Visa and the National (D) Visa. Category A are transit visas, Category C are single, double or multiple-entry visas primarily used for tourism or business purposes, LTV (Limited Territorial Validity) Visas are used for humanitarian purposes, Group Visa are used for groups of 5-30 travellers and lastly, the National (D) Visa is for studying, teaching, working or medical purposes.
A Schengen Visa grants the holder permission to enter a country, or countries, and to stay and/or travel for a given length of time within the 26 Schengen member states. This means that the holder, depending on the type of Schengen Visa, can travel within the Schengen countries without being subject to the delaying border controls between each country. Although these “internal” borders have been largely removed, as with any traveller, regardless of nationality or papers, Schengen Visa holders are subject to police and security checks.
Types of Schengen Visas
There are two categories of Schengen Visa, A and C, and which one is applicable will depend upon the destination, length and purpose of the stay and the intended route.
Type A. Airport Transit Visa
This type of visa is basically permission to transit through the airport of a Schengen country to another destination e.g. to catch a connecting flight. The visa is only valid within the confines of the airport and does not permit the holder to leave the airport or enter the country proper for any reason.
The Airport Transit Visa can be confusing as, according to the EU, it applies to citizens of “some countries” in “some Schengen states” while other travellers are exempt from this requirement.
Type B. Transit Visa
A Transit Visa is required for travellers who wish to journey through any of the Schengen states by car, coach or other means. It may also be necessary if there is a need to leave the confines of the destination airport while waiting for an ongoing travel connection.
Transit visas can be acquired for one, two or multiple transits but the time allowed for each transit is limited to five days.
Category C Schengen Visa
This is the most common European visa in use and the one most tourists will require when visiting one or more Schengen states. Sometimes referred to as a “Short Stay” or “Travel” visa, it entitles the holder to stay in the Schengen zone for up to a maximum of 90 days within a 180 day timeframe. The Category C “short-stay visa” is generally the most suitable for tourists or those people wishing to attend sporting or cultural events or visit friends and relatives.
There are three sub-types of the Category C Schengen Visa and selecting the correct one will depend on which of the three best suits travel and stay requirements.
- Single Entry. As the name implies, the holder is entitled to enter the named Schengen country just once and the visa expires once the visa holder exits that country.
- Double Entry. The double entry Schengen Visa is required if the holder intends to visit more than one Schengen country. This visa will allow entry and exit from a named country in order to travel further afield but, unlike the single entry visa, the traveller can return to the first country without the need to apply for a second visa.
- Multiple Entry. Probably the best option for visitors who wish to travel through several Schengen countries and want to be flexible in their plans is the multiple entry visa. With this visa, there is the freedom to enter, leave and re-enter any or all of the Schengen member states as many times as desired. Like the other short-stay visas, a multiple entry Schengen Visa is only valid for up to 90 days. An important point to note is that a multiple entry visa must be accompanied by flight and hotel bookings and a travel itinerary of the proposed trip.
Other Short-Stay Schengen Visas
The LTV (Limited Territorial Validity) Visa is a rarely used type of European visa. In special circumstances or for humanitarian reasons, an LTV may be issued for a specified period of time. This visa might be applicable for refugees seeking to leave a war zone or areas of risk.
A Group Visa is another less common short-stay visa. This visa may be issued to a group of between 5 and 30 people who are intending to stay in the Schengen zone for a period of 30 days or less.
A “D” Category National Visa can be granted to certain people who wish to reside in a Schengen country for specified reasons such as studying, teaching, working or on medical grounds. The visa is valid for a specified time after which the holder is expected to return to the country of origin. A national visa can be single entry or multiple entry depending on the individual’s requirements or needs.
Lodging Schengen Visa Applications
Schengen Visa applications should be lodged with the embassy of the intended destination country. If the intended visit includes more than one country then the application should go to the embassy of the country in which most time will be spent.
In principle, any Schengen Visa application must be lodged at least 15 days prior to departure but processing can often take from three to six weeks. It should be noted that applications cannot be made any earlier than three months before travelling and it may also be necessary to make an appointment at the embassy concerned before the application can be lodged.