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Which Countries Are Part Of The Schengen Area?

5 min read

Which Countries Are Part Of The Schengen Area?

Schengen, Europe, and the European Union (EU) are terms often used interchangeably, but are they really the same? Understanding these differences is important, especially when considering the strength of a passport or visa, as well as your travel privileges. This information will allow you to tell whether you can skip the long lines at European airports.

The Schengen Area is the largest free travel zone in the world, allowing for seamless travel between member countries, such as moving from France to Germany without border checks. Despite this, all Schengen countries maintain strict, uniform controls at their external borders. This system streamlines tourist travel and enhances both mobility and economic cooperation among member nations.

Although it may seem simple, the concept of the Schengen Area is frequently misunderstood and conflated with the EU. In this article, I aim to dispel any confusion and explain, once and for all, what the Schengen Area really represents, how it differs from the EU, and even how both relate to Europe. 

By the end of this read, you'll understand these distinctions' real impact on everything from your travel plans to where you can live and work.

 

Luxembourg, the beautiful small country, is the world's only Grand Duchy

Luxembourg, the beautiful small country, is the world's only Grand Duchy

UNDERSTANDING THE SCHENGEN AREA

Simply put, the Schengen Area is a group of 29 European countries that have lifted border controls between each other. The project started in 1985 as an intergovernmental collaboration featuring Germany, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium to facilitate travel and border control efficiency. 

Since its inception, many other countries have become Schengen members or at least applied Schengen rules despite not being part of the Schengen Agreement. Croatia recently joined the Schengen Area in full, becoming a member on January 1st, 2023. However, Cyprus and Ireland, both EU members, are still in the process of applying the Schengen rules. 

 

SCHENGEN VS. EUROPEAN UNION VS. EUROPE

Understanding these three concepts' differences is key to navigating life, work and travel across the Old Continent. Let’s break them down one by one:

 

THE SCHENGEN AREA

The Schengen Area results from an agreement between European countries to allow passport-free travel across their borders. Instead of implementing a single external border, this zone includes countries that have agreed to abolish all internal borders. Here are the key points. 

 

MEMBERS

 

TRAVEL FREEDOM

Once you enter one Schengen country, you can cross into others without border checks, making travel seamless and efficient.

 

NON-EU MEMBERS

Most Schengen members are also EU members, except for Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. Other microstates like Andorra, Monaco, and San Marino, though not members of the EU or Schengen, abide by Schengen rules. For example, if you have a French passport, you can travel visa-free to Andorra or Monaco. 

 

Not all European Union countries are part of the Schengen Area. Ireland, for instance, does not fully adhere to the Schengen rules in order to maintain a common travel area with the United Kingdom

Not all European Union countries are part of the Schengen Area. Ireland, for instance, does not fully adhere to the Schengen rules in order to maintain a common travel area with the United Kingdom

THE EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union is a political and economic union of 27 member states committed to regional integration. It allows for free travel and includes economic and political regulations and collective international agreements.

 

CURRENCY

Most, not all, EU countries use the euro. For example, Poland and Hungary use their own currencies. 

 

POLICIES

The EU imposes various rules and regulations regarding aspects like Data Protection, trade tariffs and even monetary policy.

 

NON-SCHENGEN MEMBERS

Not all EU countries are part of the Schengen. For example, Ireland does not fully follow Schengen rules to maintain a common travel area with the UK. 

 

North Macedonia is an example of a European country that is neither part of the European Union nor the Schengen Area

North Macedonia is an example of a European country that is neither part of the European Union nor the Schengen Area

EUROPE

In a geographical sense, Europe is the continent that extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Asia in the east and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south. It comprises 44 countries with various political, economic and regulatory frameworks. For example, Belarus, Albania and North Macedonia are European countries (but not members of the EU or Schengen).

 

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE SCHENGEN AREA

To remove potential doubts further, I want to write this section so that you can streamline your trips to Europe. The fewer misconceptions you believe, the easier it will be for you to save time and money when exploring the Old Continent.

 

EU EQUALS SCHENGEN

This misconception is common because EU passport holders can travel visa-free to other member states that, in turn, happen to be Schengen members, too. However, just keep in mind that some EU countries are not Schengen while some Schengen countries are not EU. For example, Cyprus is not yet part of the Schengen Area, but Switzerland and Norway (both Schengen states) are not in the EU. 

 

WHY DO SOME COUNTRIES OPT OUT OF THE EU? 

The EU provides some benefits to its citizens and visa holders, such as visa-free travel to member states or, in many cases, a common currency that allows for easy transactions without needing currency exchange. However, we can encounter countries like Andorra and Monaco, which both use the euro as their official currency and enjoy more sovereignty on the fiscal and legislative fronts. Another example is Norway, which prefers to stay out of the EU to control its fishing industry. 

 

WHY DO SOME COUNTRIES OPT OUT OF SCHENGEN?

As of this writing (May 2024), countries like Cyprus and Ireland are part of the EU but opt-outs of the Schengen Area. Cyprus still has a disputed border between the Greek and Turkish divisions, whereas Ireland, as stated above, wants to maintain its common travel area and border with the UK. 

 

Holders of Schengen visas are not entitled to work or seek residency. Long-term stays or employment require national visas or additional documentation

Holders of Schengen visas are not entitled to work or seek residency. Long-term stays or employment require national visas or additional documentation

ALL OF EUROPE IS SCHENGEN

Another widespread myth is that all European countries are Schengen states, but the Schengen Area and Europe are not synonymous. Politically, Europe consists of diverse nations with distinct governance structures and policies regarding travel and border control. Countries such as Ukraine, Russia, and the Balkan states outside the EU exemplify this diversity, each with unique regulations and no involvement in Schengen's border-free travel zone.

 

PRIVILEGES AND IMPLICATIONS

Finally, let’s discuss the privileges and implications of EU passports and visas versus those of Schengen. If you want to pursue a second European passport, the following lines will break down all you need to know to make informed decisions about travel, residency and employment in Europe.

 

EU CITIZENSHIP VS. SCHENGEN STATUS

EU citizens enjoy the right to travel, work and live in any member state without additional permits or visas. EU citizens benefit from the following rights:

  • Travel Rights: The right to travel into, out of or within the EU by air, rail, bus or ship. This also applies to pets as long as they have their pet passports. 

  • Employment Rights: The ability to work in any EU country without a work permit, including access to all employment opportunities, except for some public sector positions restricted to national citizens.

  • Residency Rights: The right to reside permanently in any EU country after residing legally for a continuous period of five years. 

 

In contrast, Schengen visas allow non-EU citizens short-term entry for travel within the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a 180-day days. Key points include: 

  • Ease of Travel: Schengen visas simplify travel between signatory countries, removing the hassle of multiple visa applications and border checks within the Schengen Zone.

  • No Long-Term Benefits: Holders of Schengen visas do not gain rights to work or claim residency; longer stays or employment typically require national visas and additional documentation.

 

Understanding the distinctions between the Schengen Area, the European Union, and the European continent is essential for anyone planning to live, work, or travel in Europe

Understanding the distinctions between the Schengen Area, the European Union, and the European continent is essential for anyone planning to live, work, or travel in Europe

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, understanding the distinctions between the Schengen Area, the European Union, and Europe itself is essential for anyone considering travel or relocation within these regions. 

The Schengen Area offers freedom of movement across its member countries, although it's distinct from the EU, which provides further benefits like political and economic integration for its citizens. Not all EU countries are Schengen members, and not all Schengen members are in the EU, affecting everything from travel freedom to long-term residency rights and professional opportunities. 

Recognizing these differences can significantly enhance your strategic planning for living, working, or travelling in Europe.

 

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Mikkel Thorup

Written by Mikkel Thorup

Mikkel Thorup is the world’s most sought-after expat consultant. He focuses on helping high-net-worth private clients to legally mitigate tax liabilities, obtain a second residency and citizenship, and assemble a portfolio of foreign investments including international real estate, timber plantations, agricultural land and other hard-money tangible assets. Mikkel is the Founder and CEO at Expat Money®, a private consulting firm started in 2017. He hosts the popular weekly podcast, the Expat Money Show, and wrote the definitive #1-Best Selling book Expat Secrets - How To Pay Zero Taxes, Live Overseas And Make Giant Piles Of Money, and his second book: Expats Guide On Moving To Mexico.

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