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The Schengen Area: Europe’s Passport-Free, Borderless Agreement

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The Schengen Area, sometimes called the Schengen Zone, is currently made up of 26 European countries that have ratified the Schengen Agreement. Under this agreement, traveling from one country to another within the Schengen Area is done virtually without border controls. Though a passport and/or visa may be required to obtain entry into a country from outside the Schengen Area, once within the Schengen area, crossing internal borders (from country to country) can be easily done without further formalities.

The Schengen Area Includes:

Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark (excluding Greenland and Faroe Islands), Estonia, Finland, France, (excluding overseas areas), Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands (excluding overseas areas), Norway (excluding Svalbard), Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (excluding Ceuta & Melilla), Sweden, Switzerland.

Basically, a traveler from Asia could fly into Berlin, for example, and get their passport stamped there. From there, they could visit any of the other 25 countries within the Schengen Area without needing to even pull out their passport. This includes travel by foot, car, bus, train, and plane.

History of the Schengen Area

The Schengen Agreement was a treaty signed in June of 1985 near the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, between 5 of the 10 member states of the European Economic Community: Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Germany (then West Germany), and the Netherlands. These five countries under this agreement would allow their citizens and travelers within the area to travel freely within; it was created independently of European Union law, mostly because of the original countries not wanting to wait for others to agree to the terms.

5 years later, the same 5 countries signed the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement, which would create the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area came into existence another 5 years later, on March 26th, 1995, after both the Schengen Agreement and the Convention had been implemented. Soon after, the European Union adopted the Schengen Area into its laws, and many more member countries followed in signing and becoming part of the Schengen Area. Ireland and the United Kingdom have opted out of becoming part of the Schengen Area.

Member Countries’ Outlying Territories

Though these are recognized territories and states of countries within the Schengen Area, these outlying territories are not included within the Schengen Area. This is usually due to the fact that most of these territories are overseas or islands. These include:

  • France – French Guiana, Mayotte, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, French Polynesia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, New Caledonia, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna.
  • Netherlands – Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, and Saba.
  • Norway – Svalbard.
  • Denmark – Faroe Islands and Greenland.
  • Spain – Ceuta and Melilla.

Future Members

As of now there are the 26 member states, the most recent being Liechtenstein at the end of 2011. Several other countries are considering joining the Schengen Area, and a few have opted in or signed but are waiting to be fully integrated.

  • Bulgaria – Signed; implementation after obstacles overcome.
  • Croatia – Signed; implementation after obstacles overcome.
  • Cyprus – Signed; implementation after obstacles overcome.
  • Romania – Signed; implementation after obstacles overcome.

These states are not in the Schengen Area but have open borders with it:

  • Vatican City – Considering implementation; currently has open border with Italy
  • San Marino
  • Monaco
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