Schengen Area: What is It and How to Live There (Schengen Visa, Residence Permit)

Schengen Area: Discover what is it, how to move and travel in one of the largest free movement of citizens area in the world

Are you considering traveling or moving to the Schengen Area? In this post we will analyze what is the Schengen area, the advantages of it, and how you can live and travel freely in this European free movement area.

schengen area

What is The Schengen Area

Before we explore the ways to get the most out of living and traveling in the Schengen area, we have to understand what the Schengen area is all about. 

Firstly, let’s do a bit of history. The name Schengen comes from a village in Luxembourg, called Schengen. There, in 1985, a number of European countries signed a treaty, called Schengen treaty. The goal of the Schengen Treaty was to enable free movement across Europe, which has been a concept since the Middle Ages. After the Second World War it was frequently discussed but not acted upon until the 1980s. 

The founding countries of the Schengen Treaty were France, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Schengen area has since then expanded, and now is comprised of 26 countries.

How does the Schengen Area Work?

Now that we know what the Schengen Area is, let’s understand how it works. The Schengen area is basically an area were border and passport controls are not enforced on its residents and visitors. 

If you are in the Schengen area legally, you can move freely between the member countries which are part of it. You will not need to do any formality after crossing a border if you are not staying in a given country for more than 90 days.

If you are a tourist in Europe for example, you can enter the Schengen area via Denmark, travel to Germany, Sweden and Norway, and exit the area. In normal circumstances you will just pass through two border controls, once in Denmark when you enter the Schengen area, and once in Norway, when you leave it.

Countries That Are Part of the Schengen Area

Now, let’s talk about the countries that are currently part of the Schengen area. Currently, there are 26 countries in the Schengen area. Here they 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.

As we can see, there are 26 countries in the Schengen area, but only 22 of them are part of the European Union. This, is where things can get tricky. You can check the map here.

Schengen Area and European Union

Not all European Union members are part of the Schengen Area. Romania is a EU member for example, but it is not a part of the Schengen area. If you cross the border from Hungary, which is another EU member, you need to show your passport when exiting Hungary and when Entering Romania.

Switzerland on the other hand is part of the Schengen area, but it is not part of the European Union, neither it is planning to join the bloc.

Who Can Travel Freely in Schengen Area

Now that we understood a little bit about the dynamics of the Schengen area, let’s analyze who can travel and stay in the Schengen states. And, in case you can’t, what can you do to become eligible to travel to the Schengen area.

Basically, there are three types of citizens, depending on their status that can travel to and move freely inside the Schengen Area.

  1. Residents and Citizens of a Schengen Area country: the first category are the residents and citizens of a Schengen Area country. If you are a citizen of Belgium for example, you can travel to Portugal without any formality or border control. If you are not a citizen of Belgium but you live there, the same applies.
  2. The second category are citizens of the visa waiver countries to the Schengen Area. Citizens of these countries can enter the Schengen area for up to 90 days in 180 days without a visa. Among these countries, we have the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine, Brazil and many others. 
  3. Citizens which do not fall in the other 2 categories, but have a valid Schengen visa.

How to Move to the Schengen Area

Now we will discuss how to move to Schengen area, if you are not a citizen of an EU country, and you are also currently not a resident of a Schengen state.

Residence Permit in the Schengen Area

In order to move to the Schengen area, you will need a resident permit to stay in one of the Schengen states. To obtain a residence permit in one of the Schengen states, you will need a reason to be eligible to apply.

The reasons available actually vary from country to country, there is no specific guidelines for the whole Schengen area. Usual reasons include study, work, marriage to an EU national, and in some cases retirement, being the director of a company, or even a freelancer.

In most cases, to get a residence permit, firstly you will need to apply for a visa issued by the Schengen state which you are going to move to. There are some exceptions to this in which you can enter a Schengen country visa free, and apply for a residence permit from inside. This depends on your country of citizenship, the country you are going to move to, and the purpose of your stay.

Schengen Visa 

A Schengen Visa allows you to travel to any of the 26 countries in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days for various purposes. The Schengen Visa is the most popular for travelling in Europe and means you can enter, travel within, and leave these 26 countries without facing border control.

14.2 million people used Schengen Visas in 2018 for European travel. Many Non-EU nationals need a valid passport and a Schengen Visa upon entry to the zone. 

If you are planning to stay longer than 90 days to work, study, or live in the Schengen Area, you need to have a visa for the country you will live in.

Other Countries You Can Travel if You Have a Schengen Visa

If you need a visa to the Schengen area and you got one, there are good news. Apart from the fact that you will be able to travel freely in the Schengen area, there are a number of countries outside the Schengen area that will allow you to enter their borders if you have a Schengen visa.

These countries would normally require you a visa (if you needed a Schengen visa in the first place), but since your Schengen visa was approved and the requirements are somehow strict, the countries consider you as someone that, lets’ say, will probably behave well, and allow you in.

Some of these countries are in the European Union, but not in the Schengen area, like Croatia or Romania. Some others, are outside the European Union, like Serbia and Montenegro. Some, are not even in Europe like Mexico or Antigua and Barbuda.

There is also the exceptional case of Ireland. Ireland is an EU member not a part of the Schengen area. If you do need a visa to the Schengen area to come for a short stay, you cannot use it to enter Ireland. Even if Ireland is an EU member and you have Schengen visa.

Other Resources to Travel in Europe

If you want to travel to Europe you might want to check our other guides to the region. Check when is high and low season in Europe, and the best countries to live in Eastern Europe.