Traveling to the Schengen Area – What You Need to Know

Traveling to the Schengen Area

The breaking news of required visas for some travelers visiting Europe’s Schengen Area has generated many questions. In an effort to assist you, we’ve gathered some basic information to help sort out some of the most common elements causing confusion.

What Countries Make Up the Schengen Area?

The Schengen Area is a zone of 26 European countries that have abolished their internal borders for the free and unrestricted movement of their people. They’ve chosen to establish common rules for border control, fighting crime and strengthening common judicial systems. Although most of the Schengen countries are in the European Union, the Schengen Area shouldn’t be confused with the EU itself, as certain members are not EU countries (such as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein). A holder of a Uniform Schengen visa can travel to all 26 member countries of the Schengen Area.

These countries include:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Are U.S. Citizens Required to Get a Schengen Visa?

Citizens of the United States can travel to the 26 European member countries of the Schengen Area without a visa if they have a valid U.S. passport. This is valid for up to 90 days for short-term tourism or a business trip (90 days within a 180 day period). Be aware, however, you will be asked by a border guard to present:

  • A current U.S. passport that’s valid for at least three additional months beyond travel dates
  • Evidence of purpose of entry – documents showing why you are traveling to the Schengen Area
  • Proof of sufficient financial means, via documents that show you can support yourself during your whole stay in Europe

Certain situations can change this rule, however:

  • U.S. residents of another nationality (non-Americans residing in the U.S.) – coming from countries that have not established a visa-free regime with the EU – will have to apply for a Schengen visa in order to enter.
  • If you have been rejected from entering the Schengen Area as a U.S. citizen in the past, you will need to apply for a Schengen visa in the United States. You can apply at the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit, located in the U.S. or other 3rd party visa services.
  • U.S. Green Card holders, who are also nationals of third world countries that have not established a visa-free regime with the EU, will need to obtain a Schengen Visa.
  • If you are traveling to the Czech Republic to work or study, you will be required to obtain a visa.

Who is Required to Get a Schengen Visa?

The answer to this question hinges on where you hold your citizenship. If you are a citizen of any of the 105 countries required to obtain a Schengen visa, you’ll be among those having to go through the necessary visa process and interviews granting permission to enter.

In addition, there are citizens of specific countries which also need an airport transit visa in order to change planes or disembark from a ship in a Schengen Area country. To be safe, check the complete list of required citizens of these countries, documents required for travelers and seafarers, when and how to apply.

What is Coming in 2021

Currently, there are 61 countries not in the EU but are visa-free (including American citizens as stated earlier). Citizens of these countries are allowed to travel in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days for business or tourism (not study).

Starting in 2021, citizens of all these countries will need security approval by filling out a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) online application. This is not a visa, rather a way for them to keep track of visa-free visitors to assure they are not a security threat. This process allows EU authorities to pre-screen all travelers and confirm their status before entry – or even boarding a flight- to Europe. If you need to remain longer than the allotted 90 days, you must apply for a residency permit. If you don’t, you risk fines and deportation. In addition to business and tourist purposes, the ETIAS will also allow people to visit the Schengen Area for medical and transit reasons.

The bottom line? By 2021, an ETIAS application will be mandatory for all countries who are Schengen visa-free. If you hold a Schengen Visa, however, you will not need an ETIAS authorization.

Is Travel Insurance Required?

The only people for which having a covered insurance policy is a mandatory requirement are visa nationalities. Anyone traveling temporarily to Europe from a country subject to visa requirements – be it an individual or group visitors, tourists, or business travelers – must purchase and have proof of travel insurance. A letter of proof from your insurance company – including a statement of coverage in Europe for any medical, repatriation and evacuation expenses for all dates of travel – is required. Coverage must be for a minimum €30,000 euro (roughly $35,000 depending on the exchange rate).

We recommend purchasing a travel insurance policy regardless of whether it’s required or not – giving you the peace of mind of coverage in the event of unexpected expenses or emergencies.

The European Schengen Area is actually the largest visa-free zone in the world. Now that you’re armed with the basics, you can travel to these regions with confidence. At Travelex, we are committed to providing quality travel protection for you and your family. Contact us to learn more about how we can help keep you protected while traveling to the Schengen Area.

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The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Travelex Insurance Service disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. The information expressed herein are subject to change without notice.