Opening the Gates

Freedom and security for travellers in Europe

Today, most of the territory of the European continent is part of the border-free Schengen Area. The Schengen provisions abolish checks at the Union’s internal borders in accordance with a single set of rules.

Any person, irrespective of nationality, may cross the internal borders without being subjected to border checks. For travellers coming from outside Europe, this means one visa, and one border control – when they enter the first Schengen country on their itinerary. Schengen Area encompasses most EU States, plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, with the notable exception of the United Kingdom and Ireland.


The border-free Schengen Area functions efficiently thanks to a common visa policy which facilitates the entry of legal visitors into the EU, while strengthening internal security.

The EU has set up a common visa policy for short stays, i.e. stays up to three months, which is applied through the delivery of so-called «Schengen visas». In 2011, the present 26 Schengen States issued around 12.6 million Schengen visas. Generally, a short-stay visa issued by one of the Schengen States entitles its holder to travel throughout the 26 Schengen States for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Visas for visits exceeding that period remain subject to national procedures.

If a non-EU national wishes to visit or travel within the EU, they will need a passport valid for at least 3 months after the date they intend to leave the EU country they are visiting, issued within the previous 10 years, and they may possibly require a visa.

Visitors should apply for a visa from the consulate or embassy of the country they are visiting. If their visa is from a «Schengen area» country, it automatically allows them to travel to the other Schengen countries as well. For foreign nationals having a valid residence permit in a Schengen country, this is also equivalent to a visa. They may need a separate visa to visit non-Schengen countries in Europe.

Border officials in EU countries may ask for other supporting documents such as an invitation letter, proof of lodging, return or round-trip ticket. For the precise requirements, it is best to contact the local consular services of the EU country in question.

There are a number of countries whose nationals do not need a visa to visit the EU for three months or less.