Since its inception in 1985, the Schengen Agreement has made travel between European countries easier and easier. This is due to the Schengen Visa, which now grants access to 26 European countries, allows travelers to enter through any one of the signatories countries, and then freely travel to and from the other 25 other members of the agreement. That means you only need to show your passport when you first enter the Schengen Area, and not at each border crossing.
While many people think that the European Union and Schengen Area are coterminous, this is actually not the case. That is to say, some members of the European Union are not signatories of the Schengen Agreement, and require separate visas for entry. Meanwhile, some countries are not members of the European Union, but are signatories of the Schengen Agreement. A notable example of the former is the United Kingdom, and a notable example of the latter is Norway.
The following map shows this distinction:
Who Needs a Schengen Visa?
The Schengen Visa is available to citizens of non-member countries who wish to travel to one of the member countries for leisure or business for 90 days or less within a 180 day period. While US citizens, and nationals of many other countries, do not need to apply for a Schengen visa before arriving in Europe, they are required to present a passport that is valid for at least 90 days when they first arrive in the Schengen area.
While a complete list of requirements, as well as an overview of the entire Schengen Visa application process, can be found here, there is one requirement that merits special attention: insurance. Insurance is one of the most commonly overlooked requirements but if you neglect it you do so at your peril: that is because before the visa can be issued, applicants must show proof that they have adequate health insurance coverage that will meet the requirements of the Schengen Visa. Fortunately, those requirements are easy to satisfy:
Minimum coverage shall be €30 000 (equivalent to $50,000 USD)
Coverage must be valid within the entire Schengen region and for the full duration of stay
The policy must cover any expenses which might arise in connection with emergency medical treatment, hospitalization, and/or repatriation (up to and including that of remains in the case of death)
All our plans issue a Visa Letter within one hour of purchase.
While the above is a good overview, it always pays to check with your local consulate or embassy about any specific health insurance minimums that they may have, as these minimums may vary by member state.
If you are looking to apply for your Schengen Visa and need health insurance, we recommend the Atlas Travel plan, Student Secure plan or the Europe Travel plan. All three of these policies provide coverage throughout the Schengen region and will meet the stated requirements above. You will also have instant access to a letter of coverage that you can show to the embassy or consulate in order to prove that you have adequate health insurance coverage.
Please note: to meet these insurance requirements, travelers will need to provide a letter from their insurance company that confirms that coverage meets the minimum level of coverage. The duration of coverage will need to match the period of travel stated on your visa.
What Countries Accept the Schengen Visa?
There are 26 countries that accept the Schengen visa, and of these, 22 are part of the European Union, and the other 4 are non-EU members. One notable exception, for example, is Ireland: while a member of the European Union, it is not a signatory of the Schengen Agreement (and therefore has its own visa application process). For this reason you should pay close attention to this list of Schengen countries.
How to Apply for a Schengen Visa
As millions of travelers a year can attest, the Schengen visa has made traveling among its 26 countries easy. That is because a Schengen visa allows you to travel freely to and between each member country without a systematic process of custom controls or passport checks. Thisat makes travel within the Schengen Area as hassle-free as possible. So how do you get in on the action? Read on to find out what the advantages of the Schengen visa are, who needs ones, and what steps you need to take to get it.
Who is Eligible?
The Schengen visa is available to travelers coming to the Schengen area for the purpose of leisure, tourism, studying, visiting family, or business for up to 90 days in a 6 month period. If you have a multiple-entry visa, you will be able to leave and return as many times as you’d like within the 6 month period, but the total duration of time in the Schengen area cannot exceed a total of 90 days in a single six-month period.
When to Apply
To obtain a Schengen visa, you can apply no earlier than 3 months in advance of your arrival. Since the application process can take up to 15 days by itself — and can be delayed by up to 60 days if further investigation warranted — you should be sure to plan ahead.
Where to Apply
If you will be traveling to one country in particular, you will apply for a Schengen visa in that country. If you plan on traveling to multiple countries, you'll want to apply to your primary destination country. If there is no primary destination, you should apply to the country you will enter into first.
You will need to
complete the visa application form and attach a good quality passport photograph in the dimensions of 35x45mm.
The passport you submit should be valid for atvalid at least 90 days after your visa expires and cannot be more than 10 years old.
pay the required visa fee as well as any secondary service fees (if applicable)
submit proof of travel medical insurance which covers any expenses that might be incurred in connection with emergency medical treatment, hospitalization, and/or repatriation (up to and including that of remains in the case of death)
be prepared to provide any other documents related to 1) the purpose of your stay (e.g., your letter of acceptance to the school at which you will study), 2) evidence of means of support during your stay, and 3) and your accommodations.
Of course, since the process can vary slightly depending on the country issuing the visa, it pays to check with their consulate directly before beginning the visa application process. For more information on Schengen-compliant insurance plans, please see our page on Schengen visa insurance requirements or review the options below:
US Citizens Traveling to Schengen Countries
If you're a US citizen who'll be traveling to the Schengen Area, you're in for a happy surprise, because: traveling to much of Europe is easier than you expected. Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, US citizens will be able to travel freely to and between all 26 of the member countries without having to present their passport each time.
What documents should you bring upon entry?
While US citizens are usually not subject to close scrutiny, you should still have access to the following documents in case they're requested during at your point of entry into Europe or at any spot checks that you may encounter along the way:
As a US citizen, you'll need to make sure the validity of your passport extends 90 days after your initial arrival in the Schengen area.
Proof of funds
You'll need to bring documentation showing you have sufficient finances to support your entire stay in the region.
Proof of insurance
You'll need to show the visa letter showing you have an adequate level of insurance to satisfy Schengen requirements.
Purpose of travel
You'll need to provide a reason — and documentation that can support this — for your travel to the region. An example would be a letter of acceptance to the school at which you'll study.
Other supporting documentation
Since requirements can vary by country and consulate, you may also need to show additional entry documents depending on the countries you'll be traveling. Be sure to contact the relevant consulate or embassy of your destination country to see if any additional paperwork required.
What should I expect upon arrival?
As noted above, you'll still need to show your passport, and go through customs when you first enter the Schengen Area. At this external border, if approved entry, you'll receive a stamp with the date indicating your arrival into the country. Once admitted, you'll have free access to move within the Schengen region as long as you don't spend more than 90 days within a 180-day period.
What should I expect when departing the Schengen region?
Your passport will be stamped when you leave the Schengen region, and if you've met the 90-days within 6 month limit, you'll need to wait another 90 days before you can apply again without a visa.