The Republic of Cyprus has announced that it has formally started the process of joining the Schengen area. This revelation marks the country’s first step towards Schengen membership and could in time make it a destination that many European’s may travel to passport-free.

The move was announced by Cyprus’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Christodoulides during a session of the country’s House Committee on Finance on November 4th. Christodoulides revealed that the declaration of readiness was submitted in September 2019 and that the country would begin the next steps to Schengen membership immediately.

He informed the committee that the Cypriot government had "submitted the application for security reasons". He further detailed that, "we are now expecting the European Union to come and start its evaluation process which is divided into five parts."

Can Cyprus Join Schengen?

As EU members, countries are encouraged to apply for membership to Schengen and Cyprus is no different. If they are able to satisfy the technological and security criteria necessary they will subsequently be admitted into the travel zone, granting their citizens frictionless international travel in mainland Europe.

At present, Cyprus is currently one of a handful of EU member states that have not yet successfully joined the passport-free travel area of the Union. The EU nations that remain non-Schengen countries include:

Of this selection, Ireland and the UK are Schengen exempt and Croatia is in the final stages of accession to the travel area. Additionally, Bulgaria and Romania have completed the five-step evaluation process and are waiting for official confirmation from the EU to become full Schengen members.

The Republic of Cyprus already has closer ties to many central European institutions than some other countries in the EU. It is firstly, in the Eurozone and uses the Euro currency unlike some of the other non-Schengen EU members.

Secondly, the country allows Schengen visa holders visiting from other member states to enter without a Cypriot visa and cooperates with the EU’s immigration and policing networks. These factors could help support the country in the process of getting ready to join the passport-free area.

Do Travelers Need a Cyprus Schengen Visa?

At present third-country nationals such as US or Canadian citizensmay travel to Cyprus with a Schengen visa once they’ve already arrived in the passport-free travel area. Entry to the country then only requires a passport.

In fact, the move to full Schengen membership for Cyprus could also be a crucial factor for when an ETIAS visa waiver online application becomes a necessity in 2021.

If and when the country becomes a Schengen member it will then be necessary to hold a Cyprus ETIAS prior to arrival in the country for a short holiday or trip of under 90 days.

What are the Next Steps For Cyprus?

Now that Cyprus has declared its intent to join Schengen it enters a period of evaluation from the EU. The country will be required to pass through a 5 step approval process, which will access, amongst other things, the country’s ability to maintain the Schengen area’s border integrity and security.

It will be required to bolster its immigration infrastructure and carefully align its security and border data collection with the EU’s digital database framework and procedures. If Cyprus is able to satisfy EU officials sufficiently with its efforts and investments to maintain Schengen’s borders, it should be approved to join the zone.

The Republic of Cyprus has faced a number of hurdles to entry to Schengen in the past, not least its ongoing territorial dispute with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRCN). The island of Cyprus remains divided between the two nations following a civil conflict in 1974.

What does it mean for Cyprus to be part of the Schengen Area?

The Schengen zone of the European Union is a 26 country partnership wherein each member state allows passport-free movement of people within the borders of the travel area. This is opposed to requiring immigration checks on entry to each individual country.

Visitors to Schengen countries need only pass through immigration checks when entering the zone itself. Once inside the travel area, it is possible to cross the borders of member states without any further checks or national visas.

Traveling to a Schengen member state from 2021 will require tourists to register for an ETIAS for short trips of up to 90 days. If Cyprus becomes a member of the travel zone this will be required on a visit to the island nation. This visa waiver can be obtained quickly online and once approved allow travelers to visit all Schengen members.