The Schengen Zone: What You Need to Know


1985 was the best year ever. Do you want to know why? Because that was the year the Schengen zone was born.

What is the Schengen zone? It’s a collection of European nations without any internal borders.

Be warned: the EU and the Schengen zone are not the same thing. Some EU Members States are not in the Schengen zone (e.g. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK) while some Schengen zone countries are not in the EU (e.g. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).

The Schengen zone encompasses 26 countries, including (deep breath here):

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

Microstates within these nations (e.g. The Vatican, San Marino, Monaco and Andorra) are not officially in the zone but in practice they are included.

As a visitor, you can essentially treat all the Schengen states like one big country, without having to worry about passport control or visas when you cross borders. If you’re an EU citizen, this means you can travel across the Schengen zone, passport free and unrestricted by borders, to your heart’s content. Read no further! Life is easy for you!

If you’re a temporary visitor from further afield, you can move freely between the Schengen states for as long as you’re allowed to be in the region. For short-term travel, some nations are required to obtain Schengen visas in advance, while others (the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand among them) are not.

In both situations, however, you’re allowed to remain in the region for a maximum of 90 days from your day of entry. Furthermore, you can’t just leave after 90 days, duck into a neighbouring country outside of the Schengen zone, then return again immediately – there is a 90 day wait period until you can re-enter the region. Be very careful not to accidentally overstay your time in the Schengen zone, as you may end up with a hefty fine or even the dreaded stamp of death – a mark in your passport which will scupper any future plans you have for Europe. That said, if you do accidentally overstay, some countries are more lenient upon exit than others – Nomadic Matt recommends Spain, Italy, Greece and France if push comes to shove and you’re desperate.

If you want to stay longer in the Schengen zone, you’ll require a long-term visa – but these will no longer guarantee you unrestricted movement, as there are limitations on how many days you can spend outside of the visa-issuing nation. Obviously you are still allowed to leave and go exploring – but it’s something to be aware of and keep in mind.

In conclusion: thank you, Schengen zone! If only all travel was this easy.

Where have you stayed in the Schengen Zone?


About Author

Leah Eades is a compulsive traveller and freelance writer, whose adventures so far include working in an Italian nightclub, contracting a mystery illness in the Amazon, studying at a Chinese university, and cycling 700km along the Danube River. She blames cheap Ryanair flights for her addiction. Having recently graduated with an English degree, she is currently based in Florence, Italy.

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