The Schengen states are 15 countries within Europe who have signed a treaty to allow free movement between them. These countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The treaty was signed in the town of Schengen in Luxembourg by seven countries but the agreement has since expanded.
Since there are no internal boundary checks between these countries, it means that they can issue a common visa - known as a Schengen visa - which will allow the holder to visit any or all of the 15 countries.
Who needs a Schengen visa?Its not easy to say who does. A fairly random selection of countries don't require visitors to obtain a visa. Individuals from European Union member countries and other Schengen States don't need a visa to pass from member state to member state. The same sort of arrangement applies between the USA and Canada.
If you're a non-Schengen state passport, then it's best to check the list at the consulate of the country you're planning to visit to see if your country is 'Schengen-friendly'1 or not. A link to the French Consulate's list is provided.
How to obtain a Schengen VisaSimply apply at the Embassy or Consulate of the country you want to visit. If you're planning to visit more than one country then apply to the consulate of the country you will visit first or the country that is your main destination.
The usual process for applying for a visa is to obtain an application form. This can usually be done by requesting one by phone or by downloading one from the internet.
In most cases you will need to provide some supporting documents. These include:
- Passport with at least one blank page - valid for three months beyond stay
- Two original forms
- Two photographs
- Letter from employer
- Invitation from a resident in the country you're visiting OR
- Hotel booking confirmation
- Airline ticket and or booking confirmation - if paid in full
- Evidence of medical insurance - if travelling through Germany or Austria
Some consulates allow you to apply by mail if you live far enough away from the consulate. Others, however, insist that you apply in person. For those that require you to apply in person, you may need an appointment - so it's best to find this out when you start the application process.
There is a fee to be paid for the visa as well. This varies according to the length of visa and the exchange rate at the time of application.
Some consulates require this payment up-front and do not refund it if you are unsuccessful.
Reasons for rejection
Basically, you have no right to a visa so you can be turned down for any reason. The person who interviews you may not like how you look or they may be having a bad day. They can turn you down and they don't have to give a valid reason - and you can't appeal against this decision either.
Still, you can increase your chance of getting a visa by making sure that you have ALL of the documents they ask for and in the form that they ask for them in.
For example, when a Briton applies for a visa with a non-Schengen friendly passport, the 'leave to remain in the UK' section must be stamped in the passport and not on a separate piece of paper (as the Home Office sometimes issues it). Some consulates will not accept an application unless this stamp is IN the passport. This is the case with the Spanish and French consulates.
The Schengen visa is very convenient if you plan to visit more then one Schengen state. In the old days you would have to have as many visas as countries you plan to visit. Now you can do it with only one visa.
However, these visas tend to be short-term visas, lasting only six months. This means that if you live in the UK, and are the holder of a non-Schengen friendly passport, then every six months you need to re-seek permission to enter the rest of Europe.