In June 1985, seven countries in Europe signed a treaty to end internal border checkpoints and controls. Since then, more countries have joined the treaty. As at today, there are currently 25 Schengen countries and all of them are in Europe.
The Schengen countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Norway and Iceland are not members of the European Union. United Kingdom and Ireland are members of the European Union, but do not belong to the Schengen area.
A total of 90 days within 6 months is given to the holder to stay, for tourist or business purposes. You may leave and return any number of times within the 180-day period if you were given a multiple-entry Schengen visa. However, the combined stay within the region must not be more than 90 days. If you are a citizen of a country that requires a visa to enter the Schengen zones, you need to apply for a Schengen Visa. The visa must be applied for in person and not by mail.
You can travel to one country and travel freely anywhere within the Schengen territory if you have been issued a Schengen visa. There are no stops and checks because Internal border controls have been abolished. Internal air, road and train travel are handled as domestic trips, it is like traveling from one state in the U.S. to another. Traveling within Europe has been simplified with this Schengen visa as the unified visa system offers many advantages. The Schengen Agreement allows customs control as long as there is no passport check, and checks are made randomly, or at real suspicions.
The Schengen visa helps to promote a unified Europe and is an important symbol of the European Union.
It takes within 2 and 10 working days to get a Schengen visa for short-term stays. Processing time for the long-term residence permits or visas for employment in a Schengen country can take several months.
The Schengen countries use a centralized database, common procedures and criteria for visa issuance and use of the same visa sticker with high-level built-in security which helps optimize their office network.
The Schengen visa does not guarantee entry into the Schengen countries because the final authorization lies in the hands of the immigration officials at the borders such as at the port of entry. The purpose of the visit may not be changed after entering the Schengen territory.
Some long term visas such as employment visas are subject to the national legislation of the country of destination.
U.S. citizens who has a valid U.S. passport do not need a visa for airport transit, tourist or business trips (for stays up to 90 days). The passport however must not expire before the end of the scheduled trip.
Passport and Border Control
When you visit different Schengen countries, you might be asked to show your passport so as to check that your visa is still valid. There are documents you should show at the border and they are: passport, original letters, sponsorship papers and other required documents to avoid delay and to make the border control procedure easy.
Individuals from the European Economic Area (EEA) must present a valid identity card or a valid or expired passport less than 5 years old. The EEA consists of 25 Members of the European Union (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom) and Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.
When an individual who is not from the EEA enters or transits into the Schengen area, his/her passport will be stamped determining the starting point of the authorized stay. The passport is also stamped when leaving the Schengen area. If the passport of a third-country national does not have an entry stamp, authorities can assume that the holder does not fulfill or no longer fulfills the conditions of the duration of stay. However, if you can prove your presence outside the territory of the Schengen countries, such assumptions may be changed.
An airport transit visa (A) allows you to pass through the international zone of a Schengen airport without entering the Schengen territory.
A transit visa (B) allows you to transit no more than 5 days through Schengen countries by car, coach or traveling through different airports on your way to another non-Schengen country.
A short stay visa (C) allows you to visit the Schengen countries for tourism, family or business visits, up to 90 days in a given 180 day period.
A circulation visa (C) is a short stay visa valid for at least a year: It is issued for business visits that have an invitation letter from a Schengen country, to aircrew members, to people having a special interest in the Schengen territory.
A long stay visa (D) allows you to stay for more than 3 months, e.g., study, work, retire etc.