The rules of European travel explained!
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What is the Schengen Agreement?
The Schengen Agreement is an agreement between most countries in the EU. In 1985, the EU decided to form the Schengen Area, which is a common travel area. This means that there is free movement between all the countries included.
Nationals of the countries included, people living in the EU or tourists visiting the EU can move freely between any countries in the Schengen Area without any border control or additional visas necessary.
People who live in a country within the Schengen Area automatically have the right to travel to, live and work in any other country in the area without a visa.
What countries are included in the Schengen Area?
Most countries in the EU are included in the Schengen Area. Here is a full list of all the countries included:
Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (including the Balearic and Canary Islands), Sweden, and Switzerland.
What are the rules of travel when visiting the Schengen Area from the UK?
Good news! Currently you don't need a visa to visit the Schengen Area if you are a resident of the UK, US, Canada or Australia :)
This is because these countries have an agreement with the Schengen Area that allows you to travel here for tourism as long as you aren't spending more than 90 days out of 180 in the area. If you're lucky enough to be planning a big trip like an interrailing adventure, backpacking or spending your Winter somewhere warmer, this can be a bit of a pain to work out. Let us explain how it works.
The 90 out of 180 days is rolling. This means your 180 days start on the day you enter the Schengen Area, and you can be in any of the listed countries for up to 90 of the days in this period.
If you say in the Schengen Area for 90 days without a break, you then must not re-enter Europe for another 90 days to finish the 180 day period. After those 90 days, your days allowed in Europe will come back one by one as the time period rolls over.
If you stay in Europe for 30 days, then go home and have a 10 day break, you still only have 60 days remaining for the 180-day period. Going back to your home country doesn't reset the time period.
The only other rule you need to be aware of is that your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after your entry date to the Schengen area, even if you're only going for a few days. If not, you could have issues at border control when entering your country of choice.
How to calculate your days remaining for the Schengen Area?
It's simpler than it sounds to calculate how long you have remaining in the Schengen Area, we promise!
If you're planning a trip and you're unsure if you have enough valid days left in the Schengen Area, write down the end date of the trip you want to book. Count back 180 days from this date. Then count how many days you've spent, and are planning to spend, in the Schengen area during this period. If it adds up to more than 90, you'd be breaking the 90/180 rule.
If you took a large trip recently that took you up to your limit, and want to see when you can re-enter the Schengen Area, write down the start date of your large trip. Count 180 days forward from this date. The date you get will be the very first day you can re-enter the Schengen Area as your time period rolls over and your days start to return one by one.
If you're still struggling, this Schengen calculator is a great tool to figure out how many days you have remaining in the Schengen Area.
What are the rules of travel when visiting the Schengen Area from outside of Europe?
If you're travelling as a citizen of the USA, Canada or Australia, your rules are exactly the same as the rules for UK citizens. If you're a citizen of another country, not included in the Schengen area or UK, USA, Canada or Australia, you will need to apply for a Schengen Visa. There are lots of different visas, the most popular one being a tourism visa.
You'll need serval documents to apply for a visa including a visa application form, recent photos, your passport (valid for at least 6 months), medical insurance cover for at least €30,000, transport reservations showing entry and exit from the Schengen Area and proof of accommodation. You need to submit these to the Schengen country where you will be spending the most time on your trip, and follow the instructions they give you.
Booking your trip!
If you've got your head around the rules of the Schengen Agreement and are ready to go, get planning your trip! Make sure to check out our information posts for lots more helpful advice on planning. Search for places to stay with our useful booking.com search box below, or use Expedia to find hotels, apartments, flight or experiences!
You can then start to plan what you're going to do! Make sure to check out our most recent posts and find our recommendations, then get searching on sites like GetYourGuide for all the best experiences and excursions.
If you're taking a long trip around Europe and looking to potentially save some money, it may be worth considering purchasing an Eurail pass. There are absolutely loads of options to choose from, ranging from a pass that allows you to explore one country with unlimited rail travel for a month, to set numbers of travel days over a 2 month period, to totally unlimited 3 month rail passes. There's definitely something for every trip and every budget - you can even get first class passes! You can find all their options here.
Hopefully this post has cleared up the Schengen Agreement - a constant source of confusion for those travelling to Europe! Have the most amazing time in this brilliant collection of countries, follow the guidance, and enjoy the culture - Jess :)