The Schengen Information System (SIS) is an important security measure for many European countries. Most travelers to Europe will be unaware that SIS exists. However, it is a vital system for combating crime, illegal immigration, and terrorism, and protects travelers as much as it protects Europe.

As the countries within the Schengen Area have no border control checkpoints between member states, SIS helps to boost security within the area by sharing information between participating countries.

There are a number of reforms and updates planned for SIS to help improve security even further and deal with irregular migration.

Find out how the Schengen Information System works and if it will affect your trip to Europe in this brief guide.

What Is the Schengen Information System?

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is the information database shared between countries in the Schengen Area and European Union to maintain security at international borders. It is maintained by the European Commission.

SIS was created in 1990 when internal border controls between Schengen countries were abolished and a common visa policy was introduced in line with the Schengen Convention.

The Schengen Information System can be used by authorities in different countries, such as police and border control agents. Information regarding individuals or objects can be added to the database for the purpose of security and this data can then be checked by authorities in all other participating countries.

What Does SIS Do?

The Schengen Information System exists to keep Europe safe. In the absence of internal border checks between countries in the Schengen Area, SIS is used to assist authorities in the member states to maintain security.

It does this in 3 ways:

  • Border control cooperation: border control authorities can create alerts regarding nationals of non-Schengen countries trying to enter the Schengen Area.
  • Law enforcement cooperation: alerts can be created about missing persons and about individuals and objects of interest to a criminal investigation.
  • Cooperation on vehicle registration: information on vehicles, number plates, and registration certificates can be shared between different national authorities.

These alerts are shared across all participating countries, enabling multiple authorities to identify and/or locate persons or objects of interest, working together if necessary.

What Is a SIS Alert?

Authorities can use the system to check for alerts on particular individuals or items or create new alerts after an incident to keep track of the persons or objects in question.

Alerts can be created about the following:

  • Individuals wanted for arrest
  • Non-EU nationals who have been refused entry or stay in any Schengen country
  • Missing persons
  • Individuals whose assistance is required for judicial proceedings
  • Objects to be seized or used as evidence in criminal trials
  • Persons and objects for discreet or specific checks, e.g. for prevention of threats to public or national security.

There are plans to introduce other types of alerts, including preventative alerts for children and vulnerable adults who are at risk of being abducted.

When an alert is created, the following data must be entered:

  • Subject of the alert (the person and/or object)
  • Why the person or object is sought after
  • The action that should be taken once the subject is located

Who Can Use SIS?

Currently, the Schengen Information System can be used by the following authorities in member countries:

  • Police
  • National border control
  • Customs officers
  • Visa and immigration officials
  • Judicial authorities
  • Europol
  • Eurojust
  • Vehicle registration authorities

Under plans to reform and update SIS, this list will be expanded to include boat and aircraft registration authorities. FRONTEX will also have access to SIS alerts in categories relating to their operations.

Which Countries Use SIS?

30 European countries use the Schengen Information System.

This includes all 26 states in the Schengen Area (which is comprised of 22 EU member states, along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland).

Bulgaria and Romania also have full access to SIS, despite not yet being members of the Schengen Area (although they plan to join and are legally obliged to join, as EU member states).

Some countries outside the Schengen Area have limited access to SIS.

The United Kingdom and Croatia are connected to the Schengen Information System for law enforcement cooperation purposes only. These countries do not have full access to SIS data and are not able to issue alerts refusing entry and stays across the whole Schengen Area. The Republic of Ireland is preparing to connect to SIS in a similar arrangement.

Cyprus, which is obliged to join the Schengen Area, is currently making preparations to integrate with SIS.

How Will the Schengen Information System Affect My Trip to Europe?

The Schengen Information System will not have any noticeable effect on most travelers arriving in Europe. The security it provides helps to reduce the risk of incidents while traveling to Europe by way of preventing crime and terrorism.

The SIS will only affect travelers who are sought after by authorities in the participating European countries, including:

  • Wanted criminals or suspects
  • People who have been involved in or witnessed a criminal incident in Europe
  • Individuals listed as missing persons
  • Individuals transporting stolen property
  • Individuals who have previously been denied entry to or deported from a Schengen or EU country
  • Travelers who require protection

In addition, visitors who commit any sort of offense during their stay may have a SIS alert regarding them created, which could cause issues with any future visit to Schengen and EU countries.

The majority of visitors should have no problem crossing the international border into the Schengen Area as long as they have a valid passport and the ETIAS visa waiver (or relevant visa).

The ETIAS will become available in late 2022 for citizens of a number of countries. It has the advantage of a simple online application process. The ETIAS application form is quick to fill in and eliminates the need to travel to an embassy.

ETIAS is itself another means of improving security for EU citizens.

Check the ETIAS requirements to see if you are eligible.