So you're going to Europe for the first time. Or maybe not for the first time, but it's your first time traveling between EU countries. Maybe you own property in Europe and are looking to venture out from home base, or you want to vacation in Europe for several weeks with your family. You've bought the plane tickets in advance and renewed your passport. Now it's time to get a Schengen visa.
The Schengen Agreement, signed in June of 1985, was intended to eliminate borders between the continental European nations. The agreement's purpose was to facilitate an ease of travel between countries, and to that end it had provisions for the elimination of full-stop border checkpoints (replacing them with lower-speed checkpoints so that travelers were not required to stop) and for the adoption of a single travel visa for the entire collection of participating countries. The Schengen Convention in 1990 abolished border controls for participating countries, as well as formalizing the adoption of a single travel visa.
Currently, the Schengen area consists of 26 European countries, including Spain, Italy, and Greece in the South; Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland in the North; and Germany, Lithuania, and Bulgaria in the East. Notable countries that are excluded from the Schengen area are England, Ireland, Ukraine, and Turkey.
The majority of the Schengen countries are directly connected by land, which makes road travel easy, but getting to Iceland or Greece from continental Europe is slightly more difficult.
All travelers from the United States (with U.S citizenship and a valid U.S passport) can travel for tourism or business purposes within the Shcengen area without a visa for a up to three months within each six month peirod. After three consecutive months within a Schengen area, you will need to wait three months before you can apply to enter the Schengen area again without a visa. This can be tricky and will require a bit of planning but as we described in a previous aritcle, it is possible to stay in Europe for more than 90 days without having to come back to the U.S. and without having to get that special visa. (Also see the U.S gov website on Schengen regarding some more specifics, straight from the horses mouth).
Getting a Schengen visa isn't as easy as simply emailing a form. There are a number of documents that you must provide in order to obtain one:
- A valid passport (or other travel document)
- Proof of subsistence (how you plan to pay for your stay in Europe; may include cash, travelers checks, credit cards with available funds, or any other guaranteed access to hard currency)
- Proof of accommodation (or enough proof of subsistence to guarantee access to accommodation)
- A travel itinerary
- Two current passport-sized headshots
- Medical and/or travel insurance for your stay
- Proof that you paid the processing fee (usually a bank receipt)
Certain embassies or consulates may require additional documentation to verify your request; it varies by country. Once you have collected the necessary documents, take them to the embassy or consulate of the country in which you plan to begin your trip. The embassy or consulate will consider your application and notify you of its decision in a maximum of three months, so make sure to allot enough time so that you receive notice before your trip begins.
Once you have received your Schengen visa, you are allowed to travel anywhere within the Schengen area with no restrictions. However, you will be required to notify the appropriate authorities if you intend to leave the Schengen area and re-enter later.
Acquiring a Schengen visa is not tremendously difficult, but it does require you to submit a number of documents, so be sure to double check your application before submitting it. Also note that you should give yourself plenty of time to receive approval before your scheduled departure date. Typically, it is recommended to give at least a two-week buffer time to have the visa approved and sent to you. We suggest more than that to be on the safe side so you aren’t sweating it at the last minute. We all know that that there is a difference between what is supposed to be and what is reality.
Good luck with the visa, and enjoy your European travels!
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