Second Citizenship
March 7, 2023
Reading Time: 7 min

Which countries are included in the Schengen Area in 2024

The Schengen Area is a zone that covers the majority of the European countries. Within this zone, there is no border control.

Although most of the Schengen countries also belong to the European Union, these two areas are not the same. We explain how the Schengen area differs from the EU, how it functions and which countries it includes.

Vladlena Baranova
Vladlena Baranova

Explained all the specific features of the Schengen Area

List of the Schengen countries

Which countries are included in the Schengen Area in 2024

The Schengen Agreement: how it all started

Presently, the Schengen Area consists of 27 countries that abolished the common borders. Many people seek to obtain a residence permit in the Schengen country to ensure freedom of movement.

The history of the Schengen Area started in 1985, when Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and France signed an agreement allowing visa-free travel without customs control at the borders between said countries. The Schengen Agreement was named in honor of Schengen, a city located nearby in Luxembourg.

The parliaments of these five countries then discussed the details of the union for ten years before the Schengen Agreement came into force in 1995.

The Schengen Area then expanded steadily: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden joined the Area in the 1990s. Other countries were accepted between 2000 and 2011. As of now, the last country to join the Schengen Area was Croatia: its application was accepted in 2022.

By February 2023, the Schengen Area consisted of 27 countries, which had pledged to be governed by common laws:

  • visa-free travel inside the zone;

  • common visas and common rules of entry and exit from the common area;

  • exchange of information between the police and courts of member states.

The Schengen Area and the European Union: what’s the difference

Which countries belong to the Schengen Area

The Schengen Area covers the majority of Europe and consists of 27 states

The Schengen Area is a specific area consisting of 27 European countries that officially abolished all border controls at the borders they share. In addition, the Schengen Area includes Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands, which are located in the Atlantic Ocean.

The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 states, which have not only abolished internal visas, but have also voluntarily transferred part of their powers to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

23 countries belonging to the Schengen Area are also part of the European Union. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are part of the Schengen, but didn’t join the EU.

San Marino, the Vatican, Monaco and Andorra also adhere to the Schengen Agreement, even though they are not part of the Schengen Area. You can visit them on a Schengen visa, but for that, you need to enter them from another Schengen country.

There are also territories that belong to the Schengen states, but do not adhere to the Schengen agreement: Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Svalbard, Bear Island, Martinique, Mayotte, Reunion, Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin. To enter them, you would need to apply for a visa for that specific region.

Countries that are part of both the EU and the Schengen area:

  • Austria;

  • Belgium;

  • Croatia;

  • Czech Republic;

  • Denmark;

  • Estonia;

  • Finland;

  • France;

  • Germany;

  • Greece;

  • Hungary;

  • Italy;

  • Latvia;

  • Lithuania;

  • Luxembourg;

  • Malta;

  • Netherlands;

  • Poland;

  • Portugal;

  • Slovakia;

  • Slovenia;

  • Spain;

  • Sweden.

In the EU, not in the Schengen, but Schengen visa is still valid:

  • Bulgaria;

  • Cyprus;

  • Ireland;

  • Romania.

Part of the Schengen, but not in the EU:

  • Iceland;

  • Liechtenstein;

  • Norway;

  • Switzerland.

How does the Schengen Area function?

There are several things that define the Schengen Area.

  1. Schengen states don’t have an internal border control, but they work together to strengthen external borders. Because of that, citizens of Schengen countries can move around the area without needing to obtain a visa.

  2. Foreigners traveling around the Schengen have to go through the border control only once, when first entering the area.

  3. The Schengen Area has common rules that apply to non-Schengen nationals aiming to visit the area.

The Schengen Area has laws and regulations that help its states exchange information. One of them is Visa Information System (VIS), aiming to:

  • make issuance of visas and border checks easier;

  • protect travelers;

  • prevent criminal activity;

  • enhance security;

  • help process asylum applications.

Another system, the Schengen Information System (SIS), is designed for the authorities to cooperate on border control, law enforcement, and vehicle registration.

Schengen visa validity

The validity of the Schengen visa depends on many factors: to name a few, your visa history, purpose of your travel, and your nationality. The visa can be given for a period of your trip or for longer — for example, half a year.

When you receive a visa, you need to pay attention to the number of days you’re permitted to stay in the Schengen Area. This period is usually shorter than the period of visa validity. If you exceed the number of allowed days, you might get fined or even banned from the Schengen zone.

Comparison of citizenship and residency by investment programs

Practical Guide

Comparison of citizenship and residency by investment programs

Common rules: a Schengen visa and how to obtain it

A Schengen visa is a document that allows you to enter the Schengen zone. The holder of the visa doesn’t need to present it when they move between the Schengen states: It is required only once, when entering the Schengen area.

For example, if Spain is the first country you’re visiting, you need to show the visa at its border. Then, if you go from Spain to France, you can just enter without needing to present the document.

There are four types of Schengen visas:

  • A: transit, valid only in the transit zone of an airport;

  • B: transit through the Schengen countries, issued for up to 5 days;

  • C: short-term, for traveling or short residing in the Schengen Area;

  • D: national, valid only in the country that gave it; issued for working, studying, or residing for a long time in a specific country.

The C visa can be obtained for:

  • a single entry — you can enter the Schengen Area only once, the moment you leave it you can’t return with the same visa;

  • double entries — you can enter and leave the Schengen zone twice;

  • multiple entries — you can enter the area as many times as you wish during the validity period of your visa.

The category C visa is the most popular one. It allows its holder to spend 90 out of 180 days in Schengen countries. For example, the one-year category C visa allows the holder to spend 90 consecutive days in the Schengen in the first half of the year, and then another 90 days in the second half of the year.

90 days in 180-day period

You can stay in the Schengen country with a C visa

To apply for the C-type visa, the applicant must provide the following documents:

  • passport valid for another 3 months after the expiry of the visa;

  • a form including full name, contact details, purpose, and duration of the trip;

  • several photos 35×45 mm;

  • medical insurance valid in all countries that you plan to visit;

  • reservation of accommodation;

  • bank statements — the requirements on the minimum amount of money in the current account varies, each country determines it independently;

  • a return ticket or other confirmation showing that the applicant does not plan to remain in the Schengen zone illegally: for example, a marriage certificate, child’s birth certificate, or proof of property ownership.

For Schengen visas, applicants’ biometric data, including digital photographs and fingerprints, need to be resubmitted every five years.

Schengen visas are issued and picked up at the consulate or a visa center of the issuing country. When planning a tour of Schengen countries, the visa application should be made at the consulate of the country where you plan to spend the most time in.

In 2020, the rules for issuing Schengen visas were tightened. Applicants from some countries become eligible for one-year multiple-entry visas only after they have already received three short-term Schengen visas in the two preceding years.

Applicants who were granted a one-year Schengen visa in 2019—2020 will be able to apply for a two-year Schengen visa. Five-year Schengen visas will generally only be issued to those who have received a two-year Schengen visa in 2018—2020.

The period for reviewing and processing Schengen visa applications has now been extended from less than a month to 45 days. The consular fee varies depending on a number of factors, including the country of citizenship of the applicant and type of a visa.

Which countries you can visit with Schengen Visa

Schengen states

Austria

France

Liechtenstein

Portugal

Belgium

Germany

Lithuania

Slovakia

Croatia

Greece

Luxembourg

Slovenia

Czech Republic

Hungary

Malta

Spain

Denmark

Iceland

Netherlands

Sweden

Estonia

Italy

Norway

Switzerland

Finland

Latvia

Poland

Non-Schengen states

Albania

Bulgaria

Gibraltar

Romania

Antigua and Barbuda

Colombia

Kosovo

Sao Tome and Principe

Belarus

Cyprus

Montenegro

Serbia

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Georgia

North Macedonia

Türkiye

Future of the Schengen Area

The Schengen Area has recently experienced several crises due to the coronavirus pandemic and the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. Despite that, the area is stronger than ever: it maintains its economic, political, and social ties.

In all likelihood, the Schengen Area will continue to expand. In January 2023, Croatia was admitted. Bulgaria and Romania seek to resolve their problems and enter the Schengen as well.

The Schengen Zone also plans to implement the Entry/Exit System (EES) that is designed for non-EU nationals who plan to visit the area for a short period of time. It applies to both citizens who need a visa to enter the Schengen and those who come from the visa-exempt countries. The EES will make the process of border control easier and faster.

Candidate states for the Schengen zone accession

Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Montenegro plan to become part of the visa-free Schengen Area in the near future. The European Parliament has postponed these countries' accession to the Schengen zone several times. Cyprus was denied entry due to its conflict with Turkey, while Bulgaria and Romania have not been admitted because of corruption and high crime rates.

The exact date when these countries will join the Schengen Area has not yet been decided. Nonetheless, foreign citizens can travel to Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Montenegro on a Schengen visa.

Bulgaria — one of the candidate states for the Schengen zone accession

The beautiful towns in Bulgaria, such as Sozopol, are popular tourist destinations. However, the country has still not been admitted into the Schengen zone

Travelling without borders: how to choose a European country for residence

Several European countries give an opportunity to obtain residence permits by investment. With this document, you are allowed to travel visa-free around the Schengen states.

The programs differ in terms of processing time, conditions, benefits, and investment amount.

Malta, Portugal, Spain and Greece programs comparison

Residence permit

Processing time

Minimum investment

Malta

3–4 months

€150,000

Portugal

6 months

€250,000

Spain

2–3 months

€500,000

Greece

3 months

€250,000

Malta offers an investment program that allows a foreign citizen to obtain a residence permit. The residence permit gives the holder a right to spend 90 consecutive days in the Schengen Area and the European Union. However, with Maltese citizenship you can live indefinitely in any EU country.

Investors with confirmed capital of €500,000 are eligible to obtain permanent residence in Malta. A permanent residence permit is issued in 5–6 months. The minimum investment is about €150,000.

It is also possible to obtain Maltese citizenship by naturalisation for exceptional services by direct investment. A person can apply for citizenship after 1 or 3 years of holding a residence permit. The required period depends on the sum of investment.

For example, to become a Maltese citizen three years after obtaining a residence permit, one needs to invest €690,000+.

Malta — the country with appealing residence by investment program

Demand for Maltese real estate has been supported by foreigners interested in residence by investment as it requires to rent or acquire real estate

The Portugal Golden Visa program offers several options for investors: buying shares in Portuguese companies or investment funds, investment in real estate, research activities or restoration of Portugal cultural heritage, or creating a company with a minimum of ten employees. A Portuguese residence permit by investment is issued six months after the application is submitted.

The minimum investment in real estate is €280,000. A residence permit allows visa-free travel to Schengen countries, and citizenship can be granted after five years.

Spain and Greece process residence permits faster than other European countries.

A Spanish residence permit by investment can be obtained in 2–3 months. The investor can choose to invest in real estate, a business, government bonds, or place money in a deposit account in a local bank.

Purchase of real estate is the most popular option. The minimum investment under it is €500,000.

Greece’s investment program provides four options:

  • buying real estate;

  • leasing a hotel;

  • purchasing land for construction or agriculture;

  • acquiring a share in a tourist property.

The minimum investment for Greek residence is €250,000.

Each of these residence permits by investment, be it in Malta, Portugal, Spain, or Greece, allows the holder to spend up to 90 days in any six-month period in the Schengen zone.

The Schengen Area: key features

  1. The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 by Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France. However, it came in force only in 1995.

  2. The Schengen Area is a specific zone in Europe that officially abolished all border controls at their common borders. Right now, the Schengen Area consists of 27 states.

  3. The EU and the Schengen Area are not the same. The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 states, which abolished internal visas and voluntarily transferred part of their powers to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The borders of the Schengen zone and the European Union don’t coincide.

  4. As of 2023, Croatia was the last country to join the Schengen. Four more states — Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Montenegro — are candidates to entering the Schengen Area.

  5. To enter the Schengen Area, you need a Schengen visa. It can be issued for several days or even for several years. The most popular visa is a short-term C visa — it is used mainly for travelling. The only time you would need to present your visa is when you first enter the Schengen Area.

  6. If you want to travel around the Schengen Area visa-free, you can apply for a residence permit in one of the European countries. It is possible to obtain a residency by investment in Malta, Portugal, Greece, and Spain.

Immigrant Invest is a licensed agent for citizenship and residence by investment programs in the EU, the Caribbean, Asia, and the Middle East. Take advantage of our global 15-year expertise — schedule a meeting with our investment programs experts.

Ultimate comparison of Golden Visa programs

Practical Guide

Ultimate comparison of Golden Visa programs

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are the borders of the Schengen Area and the European Union the same?

    The list of Schengen countries includes some states that are not part of the European Union: Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Switzerland.

    In contrast, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Romania are part of the European Union but are not included in the list of Schengen countries.

  • How to travel visa-free in the Schengen zone?

    One of the ways a foreigner can visit the Schengen countries without a visa is to obtain a residence permit in Malta, Portugal, Greece, or Spain. A residence permit issued by any of these countries allows its holder to remain in the Schengen zone for 90 days in any six-month period.

    A residence permit issued by a European country not included in the Schengen zone doesn’t entitle the holder to enter the Schengen zone without a visa.

  • Which residence permit by investment is more advantageous?

    The residence permits differ in terms of processing time and the required amount of investment. Malta offers the most affordable permanent residence by investment. It can be obtained by renting real estate for €10,000+ per annum or buying a property for €300,000+.

    For applicants short of time the programs offered by Greece and Spain are suitable. Their residence permits can be obtained within 3 months.

  • What is the Schengen Area?

    The Schengen Area is an area that covers the majority of European countries. It consists of 27 states that abolished their borders for citizens of these states. That means people who hold passports of the Schengen countries can move between these countries freely.

  • Why is the UK not in Schengen?

    The UK has never been a part of the Schengen Area. Once, the UK was in the EU, but in 2020 they left the European Union.

  • Citizens of which countries don’t need a Schengen visa to enter the Schengen Area?

    All citizens of Schengen countries can travel around the Schengen Area freely. Citizens of the USA, Australia, Japan, Venezuela, Israel, and some other countries are also exempt from visa requirements.

  • Can I go to the UK with a Schengen visa?

    No, you can’t enter the UK with a Schengen visa, as the country isn’t a part of the Schengen area. To go to the UK, you must apply for their visa specifically.