A guide to Schengen visas

Published on: Tuesday, January 12, 2021
A guide to Schengen visas - Red passport on Europe flag background with Schengen Visa in the circle of stars

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A guide to Schengen visas, the costs, application process and full list of countries whose nationals must apply or are exempted

What are the Schengen visas?

The Schengen visas allow their holders to travel among 26 European countries on a single visa for up to 90 days in a 180-day period or to transit through the international airports of these countries. First signed in 1985, the Schengen Agreement was designed to open up Europe’s borders, making it easier for people to travel among member countries.

The concept is similar to travelling from one US state to another, or one UK country to another. However, be aware that Schengen countries can reintroduce temporary border control in response to current events.

The 26 countries, known collectively as the Schengen States, are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Among these 26, four of them (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) are not part of the EU but are associate members of the Schengen Area.

In addition, there are four countries – Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City – that aren’t part of the Schengen Area or European Union; but because they are enclosed within an EU country, they also follow the same rules and open their borders to visitors with a Schengen visa.

Schengen visa costs

A Schengen visa costs €80 for adults and those who are above 12 years old, €40 for children aged six to 12, and free for children below six.

Nationals from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia pay a lower fee of €35.

In addition, the visa fee is waived for the following applicants:

  • School pupils, students, postgraduate students and accompanying teachers who undertake stays for the purpose of study or educational training
  • Researchers from third countries travelling for the purpose of carrying out scientific research
  • Representatives of non-profit organisations aged 25 years or less participating in seminars, conferences, sports, cultural or educational events organised by non-profit organisations
  • Family members of EU/EEA (European Economic Area) citizens, falling under Directive 2004/38

Schengen visa validity

The precise length of validity of your visa is indicated on the visa sticker under the heading “Duration of visit”. In general, once issued, you can visit any of the Schengen countries for a stay of up to 90 days in any 180-day period.

The visa sticker under the heading “Number of entries” indicates how many times you can visit. If the number is ‘1’, it means it is a single-entry visa and you can only enter the Schengen area once. If the number is ‘2’, you can visit twice. If it is ‘MULT’, you can enter as many times as you want.

Application process

You must apply at the consulate of the country that you intend to visit, no more than six months before the start of your intended trip but no later than 15 calendar days before the intended trip.

If you plan to visit multiple countries, then you must use the main purpose of stay or longest stay to determine which consulate you must submit your application to. For example, if you plan to visit France, Spain and Italy as a tourist and you intend to stay in Italy longer than in the other two countries, then you must submit your application to the Italian consulate.

If you plan to visit multiple countries and spend an equal number of days in each one, then you must apply at the consulate of the country whose borders you cross first when entering the Schengen area.

The application process usually takes 15 calendar days. However, this is just a guide; in some instances, it may take up to 45 days. Be mindful of the national holidays of the country whose consulate you’re submitting your application to, as holidays can affect the processing time.

Documents required for a Schengen visa

The documents required for a Schengen visa include:

  • A passport with at least two empty pages. The passport should have been issued within the last 10 years, have at least six months left, or at least three months beyond the date on which you intend to leave the Schengen Area, or, in the case of multiple journeys, the date on which you intend to leave after the last stay.
  • A visa application, which you can download by following this link, then complete and sign. Use a separate application form for each person appearing in your passport. If the child is under 18, the application must be signed by a parent or a guardian.
  • A recent identity photograph conforms to ICAO standards. You can see the accepted photos by following this link.
  • A travel medical insurance covering emergency medical, hospitalisation and repatriation (including in case of death). The minimum cover should be of €30,000. This insurance must be valid for the entire Schengen area and throughout the duration of the stay.
  • Various documents relating to the purpose of your trip, including proof of accommodation and financial means.
  • You will be asked to submit your fingerprints when applicable.
  • Relevant visa fees.

Sometimes, the consulate may also ask for more information and expect you to submit further documents accordingly.

Schengen visa extension

In general, your Schengen visa cannot be extended once you have stayed 90 days in a 180-day period.

You may apply for an extension if you can show force majeure, or due to humanitarian reasons, or for serious personal reasons that make it impossible for you to leave a Schengen state before the expiry of your visa.

If your Schengen visa is rejected

If your Schengen visa is rejected, the consulate handling your application usually states the reasons for the refusal, along with an appeal process, should you choose to exercise it. Unfortunately, your visa fee is not refunded.

Who must apply for a Schengen visa?

Nationals from the following 103 countries must apply for a Schengen visa prior to travelling:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, Congo (Republic of), Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Congo (Democratic Republic of), Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Nationals from countries not listed above or below, like Kosovo and Palestinian Authority, will need to contact the destination country directly and seek the appropriate advice.

Who is exempted from a Schengen visa?

At present, nationals from 57 countries can visit any of the Schengen countries for up to 90 days in a 180-day period without a visa. These 57 countries are:

Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Georgia, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Malaysia, Marshal Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Macedonia, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Serbia*, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Timor Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu and Venezuela.

In addition, passport holders from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, also do not need a visa to visit any of the Schengen countries.

* Serbian passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate aren’t included.

By the end of 2022, however, nationals who can travel to any Schengen state without a visa now must apply for ETIAS. For more information, follow the link to the article Applying for ETIAS.

Schengen airport transit visa

A Schengen airport transit visa allows affected travellers to transit through the international parts of the airports in any Schengen country and continue the journey to a non-Schengen destination country.

If you are uncertain if you need one, check directly with the airlines handling your booking or the consulate whose country you’re transiting.

You may be exempt from the airport transit visa requirement if you:

  • Hold a valid visa or residence permit issued by a Schengen state
  • Hold a valid visa for a Member State of the EU, EEA (European Economic Area), Canada, Japan or the United States
  • Hold a valid residence permit issued by a Member State of the EU or EEA
  • Hold a residence permit issued by the Principality of Andorra, Canada, Japan, Republic of San Marino, or the United States, that guarantees unrestricted right of return
  • Hold a diplomatic passport
  • You’re a family member of a citizen of the EU, EEA or Switzerland
  • You’re a flight crew member and national of a contracting party to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation

Did you know?

The name Schengen originates from the small town in Luxembourg where the agreement was first signed.

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This article was first published in June 2018 and updated on 12 January 2021.