The Schengen Agreement between 26 European countries eliminates border controls for individuals traveling between those countries. In other words, once inside the Schengen “zone,” travelers are not required to pass through customs or show their passports when going from one country in the zone to another.
An additional benefit for many travelers to Europe is that the Schengen Agreement eliminates the need for visas in many countries, depending upon the purpose and length of their stay.
People often find the Agreement confusing, but for most travelers, only a few points are necessary to understand:
1. A passport valid for 6 months beyond your stay is required for initial entry into any country that’s part of the Schengen Agreement. For more information on passports, click here.
2. A traveler for business or tourism is permitted to stay within the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days within a six-month period without any additional visa. These may be consecutive days or not.
3. The six-month period begins upon initial entry and ends six months later, no matter whether you leave the Schengen zone in the meantime. For instance, if you enter the area on January 1, your six-month period begins again on July 1. The six-month clock does not reset simply by exiting and re-entering the zone. The 90-day clock pauses when outside the zone and continues upon re-entry within the same six-month period.
4. You must obtain a stamp in your passport at an official point of entry in order to prove how long you have been in the Schengen area when you leave. Not all ports of entry have officials equipped to provide this, so ask how to get a stamp in your passport if it is not provided.
5. If you overstay the 90 days allowed within a 6-month period, you may be detained, fined, ejected and/or not allowed re-entry.
6. If you are entering the Schengen area for reasons other than business or tourism (i.e., such as study or employment), you may need to obtain a visa. Check with the specific country embassies where you will be studying or working.
For more information on the Schengen Agreement, a list of participating countries, and to check foreign embassy websites for their specific requirements, go to the U.S. State Department’s website.