Schengen visa simplified

The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Image courtesy: Jon Davison

No visit to Europe is complete without the pain of trying to get your head around the Schengen Visa. We have decided to put this confusion to rest, once and for all.

Countries that entered into the 1985 Schengen Agreement (named for the town in Luxembourg where it was signed) abolished internal borders, keeping only one external border. This bid to simplify movement between participating countries has ironically caused confusion for many travellers.

What is the Schengen area?

The Schengen area is not the same as the European Union; some EU countries are not in the Schengen region (Ireland, United Kingdom, Romania and Bulgaria), and some Schengen countries are not in the EU (here’s looking at Norway, Iceland and Switzerland). To make things messier, some countries that aren’t part of the club still play the game; Liechtenstein for instance isn’t yet a Schengen member but has dispensed with border checks. The Schengen area currently includes Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia and Slovakia.

Do you need a passport?

As non-EU citizens you need to get your passport stamped once upon entry into the region, and can then travel passport-free throughout other Schengen countries. Although you can enter some countries without your passport, you may be legally required to carry it while you’re there. Don’t overthink this – just pack your passport.

Do you need a visa?

You will need to apply in advance for a short stay €60 Schengen visa. In return, you are entitled to be in the region for 90 days over a period of 180 days. In practice, having a three-month visa for a period of six months means that you can detour out of the region and back in without your Schengen time ticking away while you’re not there. But it also means you can’t simply pop out and in again indefinitely to start your time running again from zero. You can only apply for a Schengen visa every six months, meaning three months after your previous one has expired. Visas exceeding the 90-day short stay Schengen visa are issued subject to national legislation and procedures.

What happens if you overstay your Schengen visa?

What will happen if you drift from travelling into overstaying depends on where you get caught (when is just a matter of time). Consequences have ranged from nothing, through to hefty fines and deportation. You also risk bidding the Schengen region goodbye for good.

More information about the Schengen visa, here. (http://www.schengenvisainfo.com/)

This article was originally written by Marika McAdam and first appeared in www.lonelyplanet.com in December 2011. It was refreshed in September 2012.