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Travel in the Schengen Zone

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By entering through any of the member states of the Schengen zone, you will generally be able to access any of the other member states without going through passport control checkpoints again. Similarly, by having a Schengen visa, you do not need to apply for visas to each of the Schengen member states separately/individually hence saving time, money and paperwork.

Countries of the Schengen Zone include 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, and Switzerland. Microstates within or between Schengen states like Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Vatican City and San Marino, whilst not officially part of the agreement will recognise a Schengen visa to allow you to enter.

Understand

The Schengen Zone is ‘’‘not’’’ necessarily the same as the European Union (EU). Not all EU states are part of the Schengen zone and not all Schengen states are part of the EU. As such, when you go to an EU member state that does not participate in the Schengen agreement, you may be subject to their completely separate visa, entry requirements and passport control systems. The most notable example of an EU non-Schengen member is the United Kingdom. Likewise, Norway and Switzerland are examples of Schengen zone members that do not belong to the EU.

The Schengen Zone only covers immigration controls whilst the EU is effectively a customs union. Therefore, you do not need to pass through customs when travelling to a non-Schengen EU country, but you will need to pass through immigration controls (e.g. UK to Germany). The converse is true for non-EU Schengen countries: you must pass through customs, but not immigration (e.g. Norway to France).

Requirements for a visa

Some nationalities do not require a Schengen visa for tourism purposes. These include members of the European Economic Area, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand just to name a few.

In general, if your nationality needs a tourist visa, you usually will need to procure the following documents:

  • Completed application form (the form can be downloaded from the website of the embassy)
  • Passport (both original and photocopy of bio-page)
  • Residence permit (if you are not a citizen of the country you are applying; both original and photocopy) which must be valid for at least three months from the day you return.
  • Employment certificate and recent payslips (if employed), or enrolment certificate/letter from institution (if a student). As much as possible, they should state the period in which you are allowed to go on holiday.
  • Last three recent bank statements. It must state your home address and should cover at least €40 per day multiplied by the number of days in your trip plus unpaid accommodation, transport and tour costs. In case you do not have a bank account, traveller’s cheques might be accepted by some (but not all) embassies. This may be waived if you were issued a *Schengen visa during the past two years.
  • Confirmed Transport arrangements (it is recommended if they have been paid for).
  • Confirmation of Accommodation arrangements. If you intend to stay with friends/relatives, they must course their invitation through the town hall and post it to you.
  • passport-sized ID photograph (please check the website of the embassy you are applying to to determine how the photo should look like)
  • Travel insurance that covers at least €30 000.
  • Application fee (this varies according per country, as well as number of entries you wish to make)

Please do not give your only copy of the above-mentioned documents as the copies you submit to the application centre will not be returned to you (except the passport of course).

The application form may have an option of whether you want a single or multiple entry visa. However, the latter is rarely granted for first-time and not all countries (notably the Netherlands) grant it at all unless you can demonstrate that in between two Schengen states, you intend to visit a non-Schengen country.

Setting an appointment

Before choosing an application centre to apply at, it is very important that you identify your main destination. That is, the destination where you intend to spend the longest time in your trip. It is in that country’s embassy/consulate which you must go to. If you will spend exactly the same amount of time in each of your destination countries, then you may apply at the embassy/consulate of the country you will first visit.

For example, if your itinerary says you will spend 2 days in Germany, 4 days in Sweden, 3 days in Poland and 1 day in Belgium, in this case you must set an appointment with the Swedish embassy/consulate. Check the relevant embassy’s website for more details on how to set an appointment, where you need to go, and what else you need to bring.

For practical reasons, apply at the earliest possible opportunity especially if it involves paperwork that takes days to process and/or needs to be posted to you. Appointment slots run out quickly.

On the appointment itself

In general, personal appearance at the application centre is compulsory, that is an agent cannot lodge the application on your behalf. Make sure you be at the application centre at least 15 minutes before your appointment and that your documents are in order.

The staff at the window will inspect your documents, ask routine questions about your trip and may take biometric fingerprints and digital photographs. If your documents are insufficient, out of order or are requested to submit more, then you will usually need to make a new appointment. Your application will not be processed until this is satisfied.

Processing takes around two to four weeks and possibly a bit longer for some nationalities as other Schengen states may need to be consulted. Before the appointment is over, the application centre will advise you on how you can claim your passport (either by returning or by post).

After applying

When you receive your Schengen visa, make sure you check to see the information is correct. Contact the application centre immediately if you notice any discrepancies (take note that even if you applied for a multiple-entry visa, the consul may still grant a single entry visa).

Pay particular attention to the validity dates and length of stay: make sure to leave these expire (whichever comes earlier). If you have been issued a multiple-entry visa with a long validity period, please be aware that you are only allowed a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period in the Schengen Zone.

Travelling into and around the Schengen zone

A Schengen visa, just like any other visa does not automatically allow entry into the Schengen zone. As such, you must still demonstrate to passport control officers that you are genuinely entitled to the visa you were issued.

Once you are allowed into the Schengen zone, you gen generally travel to any member state without formal passport control procedures. However, part of the Schengen agreement has provisions for allowing individual member states to temporarily reinstate border controls in certain circumstances. In addition, expect random passport checks when crossing borders anytime, as well as when boarding a plane at the airport.

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