Great, you’re planning a trip to Europe. Do you need a visa?

european borders european union travel planning visas Jan 01, 2024
European arrivals

The need for European visas depends on where each traveller comes from and how long they want to stay.
People wanting to stay longer than 90 days in a European country need that country’s national visa. But some countries operate bilateral visa waivers with certain EU countries for set terms. These have to be researched by country.
Otherwise, the main entry requirement is a valid passport (see below).
However, from 2024 everyone who can enter the Schengen Area without a visa will need the ETIAS permit (see bottom).
The following information is offered as a guide. Travellers should check their plans against the details at the European Commission’s migration and home affairs page.

Do you need a visa to enter Europe?

No and yes. People from most Western countries can travel to most of Europe for up to 90 days. If you are from one of these countries, for several weeks’ stay, getting a visa would make no difference.

If you are from another list of countries – mainly in Asia, Africa and Central and South America – you need a visa to enter the Schengen Area. Citizens of more than 100 countries – including India, Indonesia, Russia, the Philippines, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, Fiji and Papua New Guinea – must apply for and get a Schengen visa.

The full list of countries whose citizens face a Schengen visa entry requirement is at the EU home affairs page.

The 27 Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Romania and Bulgaria will integrate their border checks with the Schengen Area during 2024. Concerns about irregular immigration persist in Schengen countries.

The EU states: “Any person, irrespective of nationality, can travel between Schengen countries without going through border checks. However, national authorities can carry out police checks at borders between these countries and in border areas.”

Open borders also apply in the microstates Monaco, Andorra, the Vatican and San Marino. Of these, only Monaco can be visited without crossing Schengen territory. None requires visas for stays of less than 90 days.

Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gibraltar, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Northern Cyprus all nominate holders of Schengen visas in principle as admissible visitors.

In 2019, before COVID-19 outbreaks closed much of Europe, there were almost 17 million applications for Schengen visas. About 10 per cent were rejected. The 2022 applications figure was less than half the 2019 level.

What is the Schengen visa?

The Schengen short-stay (type C) visa allows a person to travel to any member country or countries and stay up to 90 days for tourism or business. Travellers who need a Schengen visa should apply to the local consulate of the country where they intend to spend most time or, if the stays are equal in length, to the country they will first enter.

Applicants should expect to go through a consulate interview.

The standard Schengen type C visa is valid for up to 90 days in 180 days, a period calculated backwards from each day. An EU calculator is available. There is also a type C (transit) visa, valid for up to five days.

For trips longer than 90 days in 180, there is a type D visa, valid for up to a year. 

Schengen visa cost and requirements

Travellers entering the Schengen Area need a passport issued within the previous 10 years that is valid for at least three months after the date each traveller plans to leave the zone. For details of how to apply, check the EU home affairs page.

The application cost is €80 for adults and €40 for children from 6 to 12 years old. It is not refundable.

The visa application must be made at least 15 days before the travel date. Complex applications might involve two months’ processing time. Applications cannot be made more than three months before the travel date.

The margins for error when submitting documents are small, so applicants should email the consulate concerned to get a full list of relevant visa requirements before making the formal application.

The visa is necessary but not a guarantee of entry at each European border (see below).

It is easiest to make the visa application once travel and accommodation bookings are made because these details are part of the document submission process. If there are concerns about meeting visa requirements, it might be best to ensure any bookings can be cancelled or altered.

A Schengen transit visa (type A) could be needed by people moving only through transit zones of airports or other ports within the Schengen Area. Travelling in and out, then returning to the Schengen Area requires a double-entry or multiple-entry visa.

Visa consultants can advise and assist with meeting visa requirements. The standard list of requirements for a Schengen visa application is:

  • The visa form, available from the relevant consulate.
  • Passport details for all travellers, plus a colour copy of the passport’s biometric page.
  • Nationality (and nationality at birth, if different) and current residency.
  • Occupation and details of current employment.
  • Two identical colour photo images not older than six months, each 35x45mm. The head should take between 70% and 80% of the image, centred, looking directly at the camera, and be against a pale, plain background. The mouth should be closed without smiling.
  • Fingerprint data for people aged 12 and over (biometric data will be stored and valid for up to five years).
  • A letter outlining the reason for travel.
  • A detailed travel itinerary, including flight numbers, entry and exit points and dates, should be provided before the visa is collected.
  • Proof of accommodation, whether a booking or a written invitation to stay from a resident, along with a copy of that host’s identity document.
  • Travel insurance valid for the total Schengen Area, with a minimum coverage of €30,000.
  • Money in the bank. There must be documented proof of financial means sufficient for the travel period. About €50 per day beyond accommodation costs is considered a minimum guide, but countries set differing standards. Bank statements showing home address from the past three months will be demanded.
  • Birth certificates for children.
  • Copies of any previous Schengen visas issued in the past five years.
  • Further requirements could apply for people who have arrangements to work or study, such as work and business details on letterhead from an employer, or a letter of approval from a university (called a “no-objection letter”).

Because there can still be entry processes at each border, carrying all documents submitted for the original visa application is advisable.

ETIAS is on the way

ETIAS is not a visa. It is intended to improve border management and security in the Schengen Area without imposing a visa requirement. It has been called a “visa waiver” and an “electronic travel authorisation” for non-EU citizens. It is now expected that ETIAS will begin sometime in 2025.

When ETIAS does come into effect, it will be preceded by the EES (Entry/Exit System), which amounts to automation of immigration by storing key documents and biometric data of non-EU short-stay visitors. The biometrics consist of a facial image and fingerprints for each traveller. This storage will last three years. Passport stamping at borders will end.

Travellers can complete the application at the official website or using the app.

  • ETIAS will be easy to apply for in most cases and its cost is set at only €7. People under 18 and over 70, or family members of EU citizens or EU free-movement residents, will be exempt from this charge.
  • The ETIAS must be in hand before you arrive in Europe. International carriers must demand the ETIAS before you can board flights, voyages, buses or trains, so it’s best to apply for it before booking flights or accommodation.
  • The traveller’s passport should be valid for three months after leaving an ETIAS country.
  • Applications are individual only. A person with parental authority or legal guardianship must submit applications for people under 18.
  • UK visitors will have to register for the ETIAS. Citizens of non-Schengen Area (and non-ETIAS) countries – such as Ireland, Monaco, Andorra, San Marino and the Vatican – will not.
  • It is planned that each application will last three years – or until the passport it was associated with expires. So frequent travellers to Europe will not have to apply before every trip. It will be necessary to keep track of ETIAS validity and renew at least every three years or at the issue of each new passport.
  • Because the process is online, most approvals are expected to take only minutes via automated email. Otherwise it could take up to four days. But in some circumstances approvals could take up to a month, the EU warns. Some people might have to attend an interview.

The 30 countries signed up for the ETIAS scheme are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

What you need to apply:

  • Names, date and place of birth, nationality, address, parents’ first names and contact details.
  • Details of travel document, in most cases a passport.
  • Level of education and current occupation.
  • Details of your intended travel and dates of stay.
  • Details of any criminal convictions, past travels to war zones, and whether you have formally been asked to leave any country recently.

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