What is Schengen?
The Schengen area was born from an agreement dating from 1985 in which Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands originally took part. Moreover, this agreement was named after the small village in Luxembourg where, on June 14, 1985, it was signed. This was established to allow the free movement of individuals within the territories of member countries, territories defined as the Schengen area. This free movement of individuals has given rise to the abolition of internal border controls.
Today, the Schengen area has 26 member countries. Italy joined the ranks of the Schengen area in 1990, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1991, Greece in 1992 and Austria in 1995. In 1996, it was the turn of Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Also, since 2008, we find Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Malta.
The territories of Monaco, San Marino, the Vatican and Liechtenstein are also considered to be part of the Schengen area. This led to a significant growth of member countries.
The main goal of the Schengen Agreement was to create an EU internal market, i.e. duty-free trade between all EU countries. Accordingly, most of the EU members are also part of the Schengen area. The only exceptions are Great Britain and Ireland, which cooperate with the EU in some areas, but still, carry out their border controls. The countries from Eastern Europe that have recently joined the European Union are still in the process of integration into the Schengen Agreement but will be fully integrated members in the future.
In addition to the EU countries, some countries that are not members of the EU have signed the agreement so that they will be fully part of the Schengen area. These include Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
The purpose of Schengen agreement
As already mentioned, the main feature of the agreement is the elimination of passport controls at the country borders between the participating countries. Another important aspect is the standardization of controls when entering/leaving the Schengen area. As a result, the entire area of application can act uniformly and thus guarantee a high level of security for all states.
The regulations for an entry visa have also been standardized. Therefore, you only need a visa for the entire Schengen area instead of having to apply for a visa for each country. This change also allowed passport controls at national borders to be dropped, since the visa only has to be checked once upon arrival. Incidentally, this applies not only to a visa but also to a residence permit from a member state.Thus; you also enjoy the freedom of travel in all participating countries.
The Schengen Agreement does not affect customs regulations. When traveling within the European Union and some other members such as Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Turkey, uniform regulations apply to the import of goods. When traveling to countries that are not part of the European Union, such as Switzerland, separate customs regulations apply.
What should be considered when traveling outside the Schengen area?
First of all, you must know the regulations regarding a visa for your nationality. With a passport of any European country, you can enter many European countries without a special visa, but not all of them and mostly the travel periods are quite limited, so you often need a visa for longer trips. If you live in Europe and have a lifelong residence permit, for example, the conditions for the country in which you are registered as a citizen still apply. Each country outside the Schengen area has its own rules here, so if you are traveling through several countries, you have to check the entry requirements for each country for your nationality.
There is also something to note with the ID document: For trips outside the Schengen area, you must have a passport so that you are granted entry. An identity card is not sufficient here, so you must have a passport before you go on the trip.
Customs regulations also vary from country to country. It is also important you check the regulations for each country of travel, so as not to get over the allowance or inadvertently introduce something illegal into the country.