Travel Requirements for Europe, Including the New ETIAS
Are you planning that trip to Europe you’ve always dreamed of? In the days before the European Union, travelers in Europe went through customs and collected passport stamps at every country border they crossed. These days, the Schengen Visa program makes it fast and easy to transit between 27 countries in Europe without border controls.
Many travelers from North and South America do not have to apply for a Schengen visa, but many others do. And in 2024, travel in Europe will require a new travel application — the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). This article shares the essentials of the Schengen visa and the upcoming ETIAS for travel to Europe.
What is the Schengen Visa?
The Schengen visa came into effect in 1999. Countries covered by it are called the Schengen Area or sometimes the Schengen zone. The Schengen visa enables its holder to enter, freely travel within, and leave the Schengen Area from any Schengen member countries. These 27 countries function as a single jurisdiction for the purposes of international travel. There are no border controls within the Schengen Area.
Tourists and digital nomads usually travel on a tourist Schengen visa. Think of it as a Europe tourist visa. A tourist Schengen visa enables third-country nationals to enter and travel in the Schengen Area.
The treaty that created the visa, the Schengen Agreement, is so called because it was negotiated in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg. Besides creating the open border policy, the Agreement affects other areas of government and law. For instance, the Schengen Agreement provides for increased police cooperation, like rights of cross-border surveillance and being able to continue police chases across borders. The Schengen Information System enables participating countries to exchange data on certain categories of people, goods, and lost property.
How long Is a Schengen Visa Valid For?
The tourist Schengen visa permits entry into the Schengen Area countries for a maximum of 90 days, within a total period of 180 days.
Here are two examples of how the visa works:
A 90-day consecutive stay
You want to visit Europe for three months, from April 1 to the end of June. You can stay in Europe from April 1 to June 29 — that is your 90 days. After that, you need to leave Europe on June 29, unless you get a Schengen visa extension or a different type of visa.
A multiple-entry stay
You want to visit Europe starting April 1, and also to travel in countries nearby outside the EU, such as Morocco and Egypt. You need to complete your 90 days in Europe between April 1 and September 27 (a 180-day period). Visit Europe from April 1 to April 30, travel to Morocco for 14 days, return to Europe from May 15 to June 15, visit Egypt, and still return to Europe for up to 30 days. Then leave Europe for the last time once you have been in Europe for 90 total days between April 1 and September 27.
What Are the Schengen Visa Countries?
Inside the Schengen Area, you do not need a passport or visa check at national borders. Schengen Area countries work as a single jurisdiction for international travel. They have one common passport policy and one common visa policy.
The 27 Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
A Schengen visa also covers travel to Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City. These micro-nations are considered enclaves within the Schengen Area.
Not all European countries are part of the Schengen Area and covered by the Schengen visa. You may need different visas to visit these countries, and you will have to go through border controls. Ireland is not covered by the Schengen visa. Nor are Russia or Ukraine. Some countries are going through the process to join the Schengen Area, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. The United Kingdom, including the island of Gibraltar, is no longer part of the European Union and is not part of the Schengen Area.
Do Travelers from the U.S. and Canada Need a Schengen Visa?
Citizens of more than 60 countries can enter the Schengen Area without a visa. This includes:
- most English-speaking countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom
- most other countries in Europe
- most countries in South America
- most Asia-Pacific countries
Travelers who are permanent residents, but not citizens, of these countries need a Schengen visa to travel to the Schengen Area. For example, someone may live in the U.S. with a work visa or a Permanent Resident Card, while being a citizen of a country that is not exempt from the Schengen visa. This person must apply for a Schengen visa to visit the Schengen Area.
Will You Need a Schengen Visa or Only an ETIAS?
You may need a Schengen visa, and from 2024 onwards, all travelers will need an ETIAS. To find out whether you need a Schengen visa, visit the European Commission’s interactive Schengen requirements map.
Who Needs A Schengen Visa for Travel or Transit?
If you are not a citizen of a country that has visa-free entry to the Schengen Area, you must apply for a Schengen visitors’ visa. Check the interactive map, or review the EU list of these countries, to find out.
If you are from a country where citizens don’t need a Schengen visa, but you were rejected from entering the Schengen Area for any reason, you will also need to apply for a Schengen visa.
Make sure that you apply for the type and time range of Schengen visa you need. Schengen visas are for a specific period, not for a general 90 days. Schengen visas can cover multiple entries during a 180-day period:
- Single-entry – entering the Schengen Area once during the 180-day period
- Double-entry – entering the Schengen Area, leaving it, and returning during the 180-day period
- Multiple-entry – multiple trips to and from the Schengen Area during the 180-day period
Some nationalities may need a Schengen transit visa if they are transiting through airports or sea ports in a Schengen country. If passport holders from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sri Lanka need to change planes in the Schengen Area, they must have a Schengen transit visa for this.
What Is ETIAS?
Even if you do not need a Schengen visa, from 2024 onwards, all travelers will need an approved ETIAS.
An ETIAS is different from a Schengen visa. It is a new travel authorisation for European Union visitors, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. The ETIAS will capture data on travellers visiting the European Union without a visa. Completing an ETIAS application will confirm a visa waiver. Travelers, including children, will need an approved ETIAS to enter the Schengen Area. For adults over 18, there will be a modest fee of $8 USD (€7) to apply.
All visitors traveling visa-free to EU countries will have to complete an ETIAS application. This includes travelers from the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Japan. See the complete list of countries at the official ETIAS site.
Who Can Get a Schengen Visa?
Citizens of any country that does not have a Schengen visa waiver can apply for a Schengen visa. Nationals of Schengen visa waiver countries who have been rejected from entering the Schengen Area can also apply for a Schengen visa.
For this visa, requirements vary for each country that provides it. Generally, you must provide documentation that you meet the Schengen visa requirements. This includes a valid passport, proof that you can support yourself, proof of accommodation, and proof of travel health insurance. A clear police record and authenticated letters of reference also support your application.
How Do I Apply for a Schengen Visa?
You need to get your required Schengen visas before you travel. Most Schengen countries recommend that you apply within 3 months of when you want to travel.
You can apply for a Schengen visa through the embassy or consulate of the first Schengen Area country you will visit on your trip. For a Schengen transit visa, apply through the embassy or consulate of the country where you are transiting. For all types of Schengen visas, expect to go to an in-person interview at the embassy or consulate.
Schengen visas can be declined if you don’t meet these requirements or your documentation is unclear. If you are concerned about whether you will get a Schengen visa, work on your application with a professional immigration consultant. If your Schengen visa is declined, you have the right to appeal within 15 days.
Travel Medical Insurance is Required for a Schengen Visa
For a Schengen visa, you must always include proof that you have travel medical insurance for your travel to the Schengen Area.
- Choose between the basic and more extensive coverage
- Meets Schengen visa insurance requirements
- 24/7 worldwide travel and emergency medical assistance
To count towards a Schengen visa, your travel health insurance plan must be valid throughout the Schengen Area. It also needs to cover the entire period of your trip. Some Schengen countries only need a complete and detailed policy in your name. Others will also require a letter from your insurance company with proof that you meet the coverage requirements. The letter will need to have your complete name (matching your passport) and your date of birth.
Check with your destination’s embassy or consulate about specific health insurance minimums for their Schengen visa. Typically, the insurance requirements include:
- Minimum medical insurance requirement of EUR 30,000 – approximately USD 33,000.
- Coverage that is valid within the Schengen region and for the full duration of travel.
- Coverage of any expenses for repatriation for medical reasons, urgent medical attention, and emergency hospital treatment or death.
Schengen Area Exclusions
If you are traveling around Europe, you may be surprised by some Schengen Area exclusions. Nearly all territories of Schengen Area states are exempt from the Schengen Agreement. There are some exceptions. If you need to get a Schengen visa, you may want to check your entry requirements to these areas.
Danish territories such as the Faroe Islands and Greenland, and some small countries like Andorra, are not part of the European Union nor the Schengen Area. However, many visitors arriving from the Schengen Area will likely note a lack of border controls. These countries rely on airlines to complete document checks.
French overseas territories, while part of the European Union, are not part of the Schengen area. This includes French islands in the Caribbean, such as Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Reunion, and French Polynesia.
Schengen Area Travel Tips
The Schengen visa is designed for tourists and travelers. If you need a visa for Europe and what you want is a Europe tourist visa, ask for a Schengen visa. Those who are in Europe as part of university programs or work agreements fall under different legislation and rules. Digital nomads may travel on a Schengen visa, but they need to be cautious about overstaying beyond what the visa allows.
If you overstay on a Schengen visa, it will be noted and tracked. You may be fined or deported! If you need to stay in a Schengen country longer, or for different reasons, check with a consulate about changing your visa and status.
To avoid overstaying, it’s important to keep track of your travel dates, especially country entry and departure. Either get your passport stamped or keep your own accurate records. Remember, under the terms of the agreement, you can stay for 90 days out of 180. If your 90-day visit is not a continuous one and you have a multiple-entry visa, you’ll need to accurately document and date your travel times. This calculator can identify how many days you have left under a Schengen short-stay visa.
However you gain entry to travel in the Schengen Area, you’ll enjoy the ease of transit from country to country. Now that you understand Schengen visas, you can find more details about them through the European Commission.