European Economic Area
It used to include Switzerland and the visa regimes of most countries throughout the world still treat Swiss passport holders as if Switzerland was still an EEA member. It also used to include the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom remains (until 31 December 2020) in a customs union with the EEA.
European integration was motivated by the catastrophe of World War II and the idea was partly developed to prevent such a disastrous war from happening again. The idea was first proposed by the French foreign minister Robert Schuman in a speech in 1950, which resulted in the first agreements in 1951 that formed the basis for the European Union.
There are at least five groups of countries in Europe that it is important for travellers to be aware of. As the Euler diagram above shows, these overlap but are not identical:
Here is a table showing membership of these 4 groups:
1 These countries are not formally members of the EEA but either have a customs union treaty with the EU as a whole or bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries
2 Croatia acceded to the EU 1 July 2013.
3 Officially the whole of Cyprus lies within the European Union. However, the de facto EU border runs along the Green Line, dividing the country in a Greek and Turkish part. EU law is currently not applied in the Turkish northern third of Cyprus.
4 The first symbol is the letter code to be shown on the rear of vehicles [per Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968)] and the second is the internet top level domain symbol.
There are many ways to enter the EEA; your best course of action is to read up on the individual nation you wish to enter.
Passport and visa requirements
You will have to get a visa from your "primary destination" country. In the case of Schengen Treaty countries (which does not include the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus), that visa is then valid for all other signatory countries; see Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information.
Citizens of some non-EU member countries, such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States of America don't need visas if they are travelling for tourist purposes and their stays lasts no longer than 90 days within a 180 day period inside the Schengen area. Citizens of the EU candidate countries (except Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of North Macedonia), also don't need visas, as well as citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Citizens of these four countries should use the immigration queue often signed "EEA" - even though Switzerland formally left the EEA some years ago.
The 90 days visa-free stay for citizens of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States of America applies for the whole Schengen area; in other words, it is not 90 days per country. Citizens of the above countries who wish to travel within the Schengen Treaty region for longer than 90 days must apply for a residency permit. This is best done in Germany, as all other Schengen countries require applicants to apply from their home countries. Alternatively, you can sneakily arrange your travel to spend 90 days in the UK or Ireland (or other non-Schengen countries) to satisfy the "90 days in 180 days" provision.
Citizens of most non-EU/EEA states who wish to enter the UK can generally do so for a maximum of six months as a visitor.
You are legally allowed to bring through the EEA border limited amounts of tobacco (exact numbers depend on your arrival country) and one litre of spirit (above 22% alcohol) or 2 L of alcohol (e.g. sparkling wine below 22% alcohol) and 4 L of non-sparkling wine and 16 L of beer. If you are below 17 years old it's half of these amounts or nothing at all . Please be aware that Turkey is in this customs union and abides by European terms an conditions.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement and some micro states that have no border controls. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen Agreement signatory country is valid in all other countries that signed the treaty. Travel to and from a Schengen Agreement country to any other non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks.
These countries have implemented the Schengen agreement so far: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Denmark, France, Finland, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty and not all Schengen treaty countries are members of the European Union. Several countries are members of the Schengen Agreement, but nevertheless have not implemented it. Switzerland became a full Schengen member in 2008, as did all the other EEA members at that time. Three European micro-states – Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City – do not have any immigration controls with the Schengen countries. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania will follow at a later date, perhaps as late as 2016.
Citizens of EEA member countries don't need visas to visit other member countries.
Even if the EU is a a customs union where there are no tariffs on importing or exporting goods, when crossing between EU states, individual member states can still enforce customs checks to see that prohibited or controlled items (e.g. narcotics, firearms) do not cross the border in either direction. Customs checks may also be conducted to ensure that passengers or animals being transported do not pose a health or environmental risk. Between any two EEA states, customs checks can happen twice in a single journey: once by the authorities of the outgoing country and another by the authorities of the incoming country.
The EEA has an extensive selection of low-cost carriers, which can fly freely within the EEA.
All flights within and from the European Union limit liquids, gels and creams in hand baggage to 100 mL/container, carried in a transparent, zip-lock plastic bag (1 L or less). The bag must be presented during security checks and only one bag per passenger is permitted.
At some airports, airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.
There is a set of traffic signs valid in many EEA countries. The most important are described here:
Unlike in the US, in most EEA countries (except those mentioned in footnote 2) there is a "yield to the driver who comes from right" rule. That means, on a normal crossing without any traffic lights or signs, you have to give the driver who drives on the street right of you precedence. That also applies for bicylists. Pedestrians have to wait, though before they can cross the street. 1 All speed limits and distances are measured and marked in miles or mph in the United Kingdom and Crown Dependencies.
2 In Alderney, Cyprus, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Malta and the United Kingdom, the red vehicle is on the right.
The EEA countries offer limited support for Eurovelo; that is implementing cross-Europe cycling routes, linking local infrastructure into long distance touring routes. The traffic signs depicted above are also valid for bicyclists, unless there are special traffic lights (e. g. in the Netherlands) and/or traffic signs only for bicyclists.
The Euro (Symbol: €; ISO 4217 code EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cents, unofficially referred to as 'Euro cent' to differentiate them from their US and other counterparts.
The European countries shown in the table above have replaced their national currencies with the common European currency, the € (Euro). They are often commonly referred to as the "Eurozone". As well as many EU members, the Euro is also the currency of Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City, Andorra, Kosovo, and Montenegro even though they are neither members of the Euro treaty, nor the European Union. The first three countries are allowed to mint their own Euro coins.
The euro has not been adopted by all EU countries. The 19 countries of the EU, that have replaced their own national currencies are commonly called the Eurozone. Some other EU countries are due to replace their currencies with the Euro over the next few years. Three countries (Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) currently have no intention of adopting the Euro in the foreseeable future, however some shops accept both local currency and Euros.
Established in 1999 and introduced as bank notes and coins on 1 Jan 2002, the Euro eliminates the need for money exchange. It is not only a boon to pan-European business, but to travellers also.
It's not a good idea to accept any of the obsolete currencies. While several countries' banks will still change them into Euros, it's a lot of hassle and there is no guarantee that this will be possible everywhere or on short notice. You should also expect to have to give your personal details to the bank as a precaution against money laundering. You're very unlikely to come across any of the old currencies - and if you do, they might make great souvenirs.
Throughout Europe, automatic teller machines are readily available. They will accept various European bank cards as well as credit and debit cards. However, be prepared to pay a fee for the service (usually a percentage of the amount withdrawn, with a minimum of a few Euro). Read the notices on the machine before using.