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What is the Schengen area?

19.09.2014

What does Schengen mean?

In 1985, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland decided to abolish checks on persons crossing over their internal borders.

This border control-free territory became known as the Schengen area, after the small town in Luxembourg where the first agreement was signed.

Today the Schengen area is composed of 25 states, and most of it overlaps with European Union (EU) territory. Although Great Britain, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania are EU member states, they have not signed the Schengen Agreement. Also, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are not EU member states, but they are part of the Schengen area.

One of the principles of Schengen is the free movement of persons. Checks of persons are not carried out at internal border crossings. There are only border controls at the Schengen area’s external borders.


Uniform rules for entering the Schengen area

Citizens of EU member states (including Estonia) must present a valid passport or ID card when entering the Schengen area

Citizens of non-Schengen states must be prepared to present other documents in addition to a valid passport, such as an explanation of the purpose of travel, should the border guard request them. The border guard also has the right to ask for proof of sufficient funds to support the person’s stay in the Schengen area.


Citizens of non-Schengen states visiting the Schengen area

Citizens of non-Schengen states who do not require a visa to enter the Schengen area may stay there for up to 90 days within a 6-month period, starting from the date of first entry into the Schengen area.

Citizens of non-Schengen states who are required to obtain a visa to enter the Schengen area may stay there in accordance with the conditions established in the visa, though not for more than 90 days within a 6-month period, starting from the date of first entry into the Schengen area.

A citizen of a non-Schengen state receives a stamp in his/her passport when he/she goes through border control upon entering the Schengen area, which designates the official beginning of his/her stay in the area. The passport is also stamped when the person leaves the Schengen area.

If a person’s passport does not contain the Schengen stamp, the border guard has reason to believe that the individual does not fulfil, or no longer fulfils, the proper requirements for staying in the Schengen area.


With free movement of persons, how is security guaranteed in Schengen states?

To guarantee the security of Schengen member states and to prevent the spread of organised crime, the Schengen Information System (SIS) was created for the Schengen states.

A Schengen visa may be denied if the applicant is a person for whom an alert has been issued in the SIS for the purposes of refusing entry, even if the alert was entered by a state which is not the one to which the visa application was submitted. Entry into the Schengen area may also be denied to a person who is exempt from the visa requirement, but for whom an alert has been issued.


Important facts!

  • Although documents are not checked when one crosses an internal Schengen border, it is still necessary for EU citizens (including Estonians) to carry a passport or ID card. Authorities (police, immigration officials) in Schengen states do have the right to check identifying documents, if necessary.
  • A traveller must apply for a Schengen visa from a representative (i.e. embassy) of the primary country he/she will be travelling to. If a traveller will be visiting several Schengen states and does not know where his/her main destination will be, he/she must apply for a visa from the embassy of the country through which he/she will enter the Schengen area.
  • A citizen of a non-Schengen state or an individual of undetermined citizenship who has a residency permit in a Schengen state does not need a visa to travel to other Schengen states.
  • Estonian visas issued prior to Estonia's accession to the Schengen area are only valid for travel to Estonia.
  • Schengen visas issued prior to Estonia's accession to the Schengen area will be valid in Estonia as well after its accession. 
  • A Schengen visa is not valid in French or Dutch overseas territories.
  • A Schengen visa is valid for travel to the Principality of Monaco.

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