In 1958, 5 European countries sat down in the small village of Schengen in Luxembourg and signed the Schengen Agreement for the dissolution of internal borders. These countries included Luxembourg, Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands and took the first step towards what is today’s Schengen zone.
Currently, the Schengen member countries are 26 nations. Most are also part of the EU (European Union) while others aren’t. On this page, you’ll find useful information regarding the Schengen area including:
- What is the Schengen area and what are its principles
- Details of the member countries
- Visa regulations for Schengen countries
The Schengen Zone and Visa-Free Movement
The Schengen area was founded on the principle of freedom of movement within Europe. This is meant primarily as freedom for citizens of Schengen countries but also as a way to promote trade and cooperation within the area. The exchange of talent, goods, and ideas, and the concept of a shared sense of community of values across the area are at the very heart of the Schengen zone.
As more countries signed up to become a member, more European citizens have started enjoying the following perks:
- Soft internal borders meaning no border checks between Schengen countries unless exceptional security reasons apply
- International cooperation to enforce external border protection between Schengen and non-Schengen states
- Freedom of movement for EU and non-EU citizens holding a valid travel permit for Europe within the Schengen area
The Schengen countries that have not signed up for the EU are Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein.
Currently, the Schengen zone stretches for 4,312,099 square kilometers and is inhabited by a population of 419,392,429 citizens.
The Schengen Visa Countries: a List
At the time of writing (December 2019), there are 26 countries that are part of the Schengen area and for which, therefore, a Schengen visa is required for non-European citizens. All of these countries are European nations but not all are also part of the EU:
Currently, there are 22 European countries that form part of the Schengen Area:
- EU Schengen
- Non-EU Schengen States
- Non-Schengen EU States
Micro-States de facto part of Schengen Area:
- San Marino
- Vatican City
Non-Schengen EU States
- United Kingdom
- Republic of Ireland
Can I Enter Any Schengen Country with a Schengen Visa?
Yes. A Schengen visa can be granted by any Schengen member state. The holder of a Schengen visa will be able to enjoy the same freedom of movement within the Schengen territory as Schengen citizens, provided that their visa is valid and that they comply with any relevant visa or ETIAS (Europe Travel Information and Authorization System) requirements.
Unless special security circumstances apply, a Schengen visa holder can cross all the internal Schengen borders without having to go through document checks. Internal borders can also be temporarily reinstated (for no longer than 30 days) by a member country in case of a serious security threat.
Remember that Schengen visas do not apply to all EU countries but only to those who have become Schengen member states. This means, for example, that Schengen visas do not grant entry into the UK (which is, for now, still an EU member but not a Schengen nation).
San Marino, Monaco, and the Vatican are not members but due to their location and political agreements, have opened their borders with the Schengen area. This means that travelers with a valid Schengen visa or ETIAS visa waiver will be able to visit these states without applying for further visas.
What Countries Need a Visa for the Schengen Area?
As mentioned before, external Schengen borders are considered hard borders. This means that travelers will have to go through document checks in order to cross borders into the Schengen territory and that many third-country nationals (as to say, non-EU or Schengen citizens) need a valid visa in order to be admitted into the area.
Countries that currently enjoy visa-free status don’t need to obtain a travel permit for Schengen at the moment. However and to keep external borders safer, as per 2021, they will be required to get an ETIAS visa waiver before they leave for Europe.
Travelers holding a passport issued by one of the following countries need a Schengen visa:
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Cote D'ivoire
- Democratic Republic Of Congo
- Dominican Republic
- Equatorial Guinea
- North Korea
- Papua New Guinea
- Sao Tome And Principe
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
- Sri Lanka
Which Is the Easiest Country to Get a Schengen Visa for?
If you are from an eligible nation and meet the Schengen visa requirements, you should have no issues obtaining a travel permit. However, some Schengen visa countries may be easier or quicker to obtain a permit from.
That may depend on many factors. For example, countries like France and Germany are extremely popular with tourists and receive high volumes of visa applications. Processing them all may lead to longer review times than other less popular destinations.
Lithuania is known to have the highest acceptance rate. As many as 98.7% of Schengen visa applications for Lithuania were approved in 2018. Other countries with high acceptance rates are Estonia, Finland, and Iceland.