Which countries belong to the Schengen zone?

The Schengen zone is a part of the EU consisting of 26 countries. These countries have focused on increasing the strength of external borders. The citizens of Schengen countries are allowed to move freely from one country to the other, within this area, as if the whole territory is a single country.

The Schengen Area covers most of Europe and includes some of the oldest and powerful states in Europe. Most of the countries are part of the European Union. Also, there are other Schengen states such as Switzerland and Lichtenstein that are not in the EU, but still enjoy free movement within this zone, as they are part of the Schengen area.

Today, the Schengen zone is home to around 400 million people, who travel 1.2 billion times per year within the Schengen territory.

Schengen Agreement

Germany and France made the initial move that led to the signing of the Schengen Agreement. Both countries took the first step towards the formation of a visa-exempt passport-free area, on June 17, 1984, when they discovered the problem within the system of the European Union in Fontainebleau.

The authorities of France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands endorsed the Schengen Agreement on June 14, 1985. Following the agreement, the five states would enact a slow abolition of border control at common borders.

The agreement started its solid application five years later. On June 19, 1990, the same states met to endorse a convention on the application of the Schengen agreement, which at the time covered:

  • the removal of internal border controls,
  • the function of the SIS database,
  • the foundation of a cooperating system between internal and immigration authorities

The development of Schengen began just a few months later with Italy endorsing the agreement, followed by Portugal and Spain. Liechtenstein was the last to sign the agreement, in February 2008.

Schengen Area Countries

Today, the Schengen area consists of 26 European states, the citizens of which travel freely within the zone. As Liechtenstein was the last state to become a member country, the Schengen zone is open for the other states to join. However, each future member country has to satisfy some requirements, to become a part of the Schengen.

The current Schengen Area member states are as following:

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

Territories of Schengen states that are not part of the Schengen

Four Schengen states, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Norway, have overseas divisions and territories. The Schengen Agreement controls moving to those states as well. Some of them may be members of the EU, but none of them is part of the Schengen zone.

EU member states with opt-outs

Upon the formation of the Schengen zone, most of the states that were European Union members endorsed the agreement. However, two of the following opted out the agreement:

  • the Republic of Ireland
  • the United Kingdom

Both of them have a Common Travel Area with visa-free travel for their citizens between them and the three British Crown Dependencies which are outside the European Union. Gibraltar, which is a British Overseas Territory, is not part of the Schengen zone and the Common Travel Area.

Potential Schengen Area members

Four European Union states – Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, and Romania – are not part of the Schengen zone. Unlike the UK and Ireland that left the EU, these four want to join. However, because of technicalities or internal state issues, they are still in the process of being part of the Schengen zone.

The Schengen visa

A Schengen visa is a short time permit enabling its holder to travel in the Schengen zone. The Schengen zone comprises 26 countries, without border checks between them.

A Schengen visa is a permit distributed by a Schengen country with a view to:

  • Travel through or stay in the territory of the Schengen countries of a period of not more than 90 days in any 180 days duration,
  • Travel via the international transit areas of airports of the Schengen countries.