Your Schengen Visa Guide — The Gateway to 26 Countries

Last updated on June 3rd, 2024 at 08:17 am

Europe is the vacation spot of choice for two-thirds of all international tourists worldwide. Every year, hundreds of millions of people visit the continent — and many of them use a Schengen Visa. This guide introduces the Schengen Visa program, who it’s for, and how to get one.

What’s the Schengen Visa?

The Schengen Visa is a type of visa that allows travelers to quickly move between participating countries, whether to visit or en route to another destination.

What’s the difference between a Schengen Visa and other types of visas?

Most visas grant the holder entry to a single country for a specific purpose. For example, if you obtain a B-2 Tourism Visa in the U.S., you can enter the U.S. for a vacation, visit with friends or relatives, attend events, or get medical treatment. However, the visa doesn’t guarantee entry into neighboring countries.

The Schengen Visa covers entry into multiple nations that have signed onto the program. Once you receive the visa, you can travel from country to country with the same credentials and a valid passport.

Schengen Visa

What are the four types of Schengen Visas?

There are four types of Schengen Visas: Type A, Type B, Type C, and Type D.

Type A

This visa allows you to enter an airport in a Schengen nation and wait for a flight out of the country in the international zone. People required to obtain Schengen Visas to enter participating countries must get a Type A airport transit visa if they have a connecting flight or long layover.

Type B

Type B visas are no longer issued. Previously, they were for stays shorter than five days. Now, authorities issue a Type C visa marked with the condition “transit” for foreign visitors traveling in Europe for less than five days.

Type C

The most common type of Schengen Visa, Type C, allows a person to remain in participating countries for less than 90 days over a 180-day or 6-month period. Type C visas can be single-entry and permit one entry into the area.

Double-entry visas allow you to enter the area twice, and the multiple-entry visa allows you to enter as many times as you wish, as long as you don’t spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the area.

Type D

This visa allows a person to remain in participating countries for more than 90 days but less than a year. Each country establishes its rules regarding Type D visas, so requirements vary.

Type D visas don’t act as residence permits. If you plan to move to one of the Schengen area countries, you’ll need a different visa. Contact a consulate or embassy for more information.

What is the Schengen area?

The Schengen area or Schengen zone refers to the 26 countries participating in the Schengen Visa program that allow free movement across their borders. In these countries, there are no border controls.

Which countries are in the Schengen area?

As of December 2022, the following countries are part of the Schengen area:

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

In addition, the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands are part of the Schengen area. With a Schengen Visa, you can also visit Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City because these countries have open borders with the Schengen area.

Schengen Visa

Which European countries are not part of the Schengen area?

Not all members of the European Union (EU) are in the Schengen area.

Exceptions include:

  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Ireland
  • Romania

The following European countries are not members of the EU and are not part of the Schengen area:

  • Albania
  • Andorra
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Georgia
  • Kosovo
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • North Macedonia
  • Russia
  • Serbia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom

Who is eligible for a Schengen Visa?

To be eligible for a Schengen Visa, you must:

  • Be a citizen of a country other than one of the Schengen countries
  • Hold a valid passport from your country of citizenship with an expiration date longer than the visa duration
  • Have a clear purpose for travel
  • Possess medical insurance that can pay for expenses of up to €30,000
  • Have a clean background with no history of convictions in your home country

Who needs a visa to enter Europe?

Not everyone in non-Schengen countries needs a Schengen Visa to enter the Schengen area. The U.S. and Canada have agreements with the EU that allow citizens with valid U.S. or Canadian passports to enter the Schengen area without a visa. Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and many other countries have similar policies.

If you’re unsure if you need a Schengen Visa, contact an embassy or consulate for a Schengen nation in your home country.

What reasons for visits to Europe require a short-stay Schengen Visa?

You can travel to Europe on a short-stay Schengen Visa:

  • For a vacation or holiday
  • For business purposes while working for an employer in your home country
  • To visit friends and family members
  • To attend an event or gathering
  • To participate in a short educational or training program
  • To conduct research

How long is the Schengen Visa valid?

The short-stay visa remains valid for 180 days, and you can spend 90 days in the area during that time frame. For Type D Schengen Visas, the visa remains valid for the approved trip up to one year.

You may be able to renew a Type C Schengen Visa, but you will need to justify why you wish to remain in the area for longer. To extend your visa, you’ll need to apply at an immigration office in a Schengen member state.

Where do I apply for a Schengen Visa?

To apply for a Schengen Visa, you’ll need to visit a consulate or embassy for a Schengen member state in your home country. Choose the one for the country that you intend to remain in the longest.

In most cases, you’ll need to schedule an appointment in advance. Some embassies and consulates allow you to book appointments online. Others require you to request an appointment via telephone.

What are the documents required for a Schengen Visa?

To apply for a Schengen Visa, you’ll need:

  • A completed Schengen Visa application form, which you can obtain from an embassy or consulate.
  • Two 35 x 45 mm passport photographs taken within the last three months.
  • Proof of your intended arrival and departure dates, such as the dates and numbers of inbound and outbound flights.
  • Proof of accommodations, such as a hotel or hostel reservation confirmation, rental agreement, or letter of invitation from a resident saying you can stay in their home.
  • Proof of health insurance covering you in all Schengen states, such as an ID card or a policy copy.
  • Proof of financial independence to verify that you can support yourself in Europe. This verification can come as three months of bank statements or a letter of sponsorship stating someone else will support you during your stay. This person will then need to submit three months of bank statements.

Depending on the type of visa you’re applying for, you may need to bring along additional documents. Ask the representative at the consulate or embassy for more information.

How much does a Schengen Visa cost?

A Schengen Visa costs €80 for people aged 12 and over as of December 2022. For individuals aged 6 to 11, the cost is €40. There is no fee for children aged 0 to 5.

Some countries waive visa fees for certain individuals. For example, Germany doesn’t assess fees for students and educators on study trips, spouses of EU citizens, academics with certain credentials like a doctoral degree, or those coming to Europe to conduct research.

In addition, people from some European countries that are not EU members can qualify for discounted fees. Since these rules vary by country, inquire about costs ahead of time.

You’ll need to come to your appointment prepared to pay the fee. Some consular offices only accept cash. Others may allow you to pay by check, money order, or credit card. Ask about accepted methods of payment when you schedule your appointment.

What is Schengen insurance, and do I need it?

You must have health insurance coverage that’ll pay up to €30,000 to be eligible for a Schengen Visa. The insurance policy must provide coverage for expenses accrued in any country in the Schengen area. In addition, the policy must pay for you to get back home to continue medical care or pay for any expenses resulting from your death. The insurance must be valid for the entire length of your Schengen Visa.

A Schengen insurance policy is a type of travel insurance that fulfills the requirements for the Schengen Visa. You can purchase it through several providers, including Europ Assistance and AXA. Some policies also provide coverage in European countries that aren’t Schengen countries.

Most people who travel with a Schengen Visa will need Schengen insurance. The exception is if you have private health insurance that meets all requirements outlined in the Schengen Visa policy. However, most private health insurance plans provide little or no travel coverage.