Whats A Schengen? Travel Within Europe Explained!

It’s something that not many people think about when they are travelling around Europe regardless of if you are a European or Non-European. The Schengen Area has made it possible to travel thousands of miles through various countries very easily and without even having to show your passport most of the way. I personally have travelled ‘domestically’ within the Schengen zone a fair few times and can not believe how easy it is to do so compared to travelling in and out of it.

In this post I am going to explain the various travel zones of Europe and the European Area and how they may or may not apply to you.

Disclaimer: This post was created in February 2019, prior to any changes which could have or has been caused as a result of ‘Brexit’ in addition the areas shown on the map are accurate at the time of writing this post, but may potentially change in the future dependant on; states joining the EU and joining the Schengen, alternatively states leaving the Union or the Schengen zone. The UK was going through ‘Brexit’ negotiations at the time of writing this post, my opinion on the matter for the sake of this post remains neutral.  

The Zones of Europe

European Travel Map.png
Map of Europe travel zones colour coded with the various travel zones shown: Blue: Schengen Area, Pink: EU member states with not in the Schengen and with closed borders, Green: EEA States, which are not in the EU but are in the Schengen Zone, Red: Non-EU countries but have open borders, Yellow: UK/Ireland Common Travel Area, Grey: Non-EU countries with therefore closed borders –  Image courtesy of kolovrat.org

European Union Member States, Within Schengen Zone

The EU-Schengen zone comprises of France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Greece, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Schengen also extends to some islands belonging to EU states, such as the Azores, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.

The Schengen Agreement is an agreement that was signed between the 5 founding states; France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands on the 14th June 1985, in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg . The purpose of it was to open borders between the nations and allow citizens to freely travel between the participating states. Gradually over the following decades many other nations who joined the EU soon joined the Schengen Agreement to a point where now almost half of the European continent is connected without borders.

Since the inception of the Schengen Area, additional countries have opened up their borders to allow free travel between neighbouring states, the hard borders which were once the norm are still very visible at many places, with most maintaining the infrastructure in the event of reintroduction of the controls, however most have either been abandoned, demolished or repurposed, [link article to old posts] in some cases however nations have either fully re-implemented or partly implanted border checks again where possible for various reasons. One of the main causes to re-implement border controls is for mass migration, which has been the case on the borders with France, Sweden and Germany.

Regardless of whether you fly in, cross at an overland border or arrive at a port by boat, to enter the zone you need to go through passport control, you also need to go through it when you exit the zone again regardless of method. Dependant on your nationality will determine what duration of time you can stay in the zone and what rights you have whilst you are there. Some nationalities may also have to obtain a visa to enter, but this is to access the Schengen Area rather than the individual countries within.

Once you are in the zone you will in theory not have to show your passport again for immigration purposes, included when taking a Schengen to Schengen flight. Airports are designed and coordinated so if a flight arrives from outside the zone, the flight will dock at a specific point and everyone will have to pass through the controls to exit the airport, however if you are flying from a Schengen state and you are already legally in the zone then upon landing you either land at exit or you enter the transit area of the airport where you then are able to exit.

Passport Holders of EU/EEA States…

If you hold a passport either from an EU state (which will have printed at the top of the passport ‘European Union’) or own a passport from either Iceland, Norway, Switzerland or Liechtenstein then you can travel within the area for an unlimited period of time, you are also able to work much easier within the area too, when compared to a national from outside the zone and EU.

For Passport Holders from outside of EU/EEA

If you hold a passport from outside the EU, this even includes European states that are not EU members then you do not have a right to stay in the zone for an unlimited period of time and are also do not have a right to work. Your passport will be stamped with an entry stamp at the point you enter and then stamped again at the point of exit. Again depending on the nationality you may have to obtain a Schengen Visa to get access to the zone, typically nationalities of visa free entry countries are entitled to a 90 day stay within a 180 day period within the zone.

Schengen Stamps showing entry and exit of the zone on various dates, various locations and various methods of entry (i.e: plane, train and car) in a US passport – © Jeff Satterfield 2019

European Union Member States, Not Within Schengen Zone

Consists of Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Republic of Cyprus, the Dansih territory of Faroe Islands also falls into this category. These 4 (+1) member states although have joined the European Union do not have open borders and maintain their own passport control checks, this could be for a couple of reasons mainly political and due to a lack of fulfilment of the EU convergence criteria. However upon entering these states EU and Non-EU nationals are still subject to the same rights as they would be if the states were a Schengen member. If you are entitled to only 90 days within 180 in the Schengen then lucky for you these countries do not count towards that time. The UK and Ireland also technically fall into this category but have their own arrangements also (see below)

European Economic Area (EEA) Member States, Within Schengen Zone

Consists of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. All 4 of these states are in the Schengen Area and operate their borders very similarly to EU-states where there are no hard borders on land and sea access points and no passport checks when flying into the states (provided you are already in the zone from your inbound flight) EU member states also have less of a process to go through when seeking employment within these states too. 

Non-European Union States With Open Borders

Consists of San Marino, Monaco and Vatican City with completely open borders. These states are not a part of the EU however due to their geographical size and location maintain open borders with the countries they are surrounded by as they rely on them for various things, such as import/export trade and defence responsibilities. If you are travelling within the Schengen Zone with a limit of 90 days the clock does not stop whilst you are in these states, also as these 3 states are that small that they do not have an international departure points you will need to reenter the joining Schengen member state to do so!

UK and Ireland Common Travel Area

This consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The CTA also applies to the British Crown Dependencies; Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. The UK (including its Crown dependencies) and Ireland maintain an Opt Out from the Schengen Area and as a result have their own passport controls. There is also a passport control check when flying between the two, however this is just when flying UK to Ireland, on return there is not. This is done on the assumption that anyone re-entering the UK will have been checked upon entry into Ireland the first time.

Due to both states being outside of the Schengen zone this also means that if you were a Non-EU national then you would receive a separate 90 day stay from both countries. You also would not be able to travel to the CTA on a Schengen Visa if you were to require one, you would require a separate UK or Irish visa.


As a part of the United Kingdom, the overseas territory of Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen area even thought it borders with Spain which is. Gibraltar adopts a similar procedure to the UK, if you need a visa to visit the UK you will need one to visit Gibraltar. Non-EU nationals are stamped into Gibraltar for 90 days.  

Non-European Union States

Within Europe this consists of: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Andorra, Serbia, Kosovo, FYROM, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey. The partial recognised states of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Transnistria also fall into this category. 

These countries have hard borders and their own immigration policies. EU nationalities have no special privileges visiting these countries and go through the same procedures as any other non-EU nationality; this usually involves getting stamped in and out of the country, prohibition to work and in some cases a visa policy.

Andorra is an exemption however to the above statement where EU citizens have must easier access to the state and it is much easier to work within the area, also the state does not stamp passports as a procedure of entry as the other Non-EU states do, nor does it issue state only visas for those that require visas to access the country. Due to the state lacking an international airport, all arrivals to the country must enter first via either France or Spain and then cross via a land border, this means if you have authorisation to visit France or Spain, either visa-free, right of abode or through a Schengen Visa, then you can visit Andorra also.

Ukrainian Stamps: Even as a ‘European’ with Ukraine being in Europe, with it not being in the EU and personally holding no citizenship or residency I was entitled to just 90 days within the country and that was it. – © Lewis Pickthall 2019
Belarus Visa: Although not much of an issue these days for Europeans, visas are even needed sometimes for some countries, even as tourists! This is my used single entry tourist visa to Belarus which I had to get when I visited last year – © Lewis Pickthall 2019

The Schengen Zone has been a success in many aspects but its not without its share of scrutiny by nations within it and outside of it. It has given people the ability to travel internationally so easily be it for work or for leisure, but at the same time it has allowed an almost uncontrollable flow of migration to surge through the zone to the point where some participating states and temporality closing their land borders or imposition passport checks.

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