Schengen area: when do you need a visa?

A visa is a sticker on a travel document to allow a person to enter and stay for a specified period. Citizens of the European Union do not need a visa to travel to another EU country. In addition, several countries outside the European Union have agreements that allow all their citizens or certain categories to travel without a visa in the EU. Finally, beneficiaries of a residence permit from a Schengen country as well as the family of European citizens also benefit from a visa waiver under certain conditions.

EU Schengen Visa
Visa-exempt travelers to enter and stay in the EU and the Schengen area

If you are a citizen of the European Union , you do not need a visa to go to another EU country.

EU citizens also do not need visas to visit Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Conversely, citizens of these countries do not need a visa to travel to the EU.

The Schengen area  is made up of 26 countries: 22 countries of the European Union as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Six EU member states are therefore not part of the Schengen area and four Schengen member countries are not part of the EU. On visa policy, the rules are sometimes the same, sometimes different.

In theory, you do not have the obligation to show your passport or identity card on the border between two countries in the Schengen area. However, it is always strongly recommended to have one of these documents on oneself to be able to prove his identity in case of need, in particular during police checks or boarding on an airplane. Some European countries have to hold such documents when they are present on their territory.

In exceptional circumstances Schengen Member States may temporarily restore border controls .

Citizens outside the EU: residence permit

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU, you can also travel without a visa throughout the Schengen area, as well as in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus, if you have a valid residence permit issued by a Schengen Member State , for a short stay.

On the other hand, a residence permit issued by Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia or Cyprus does not allow travel within the Schengen area without a visa .

In addition, a residence permit issued by the United Kingdom or Ireland does not permit visa-free travel in a Schengen country, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary or Cyprus. The opposite is also true.

Under certain conditions EU citizens are allowed to travel or reside in an EU Member State other than their own for longer than 3 months. In this case, their family members who join or accompany them in this other Member State obtain a residence card of family member of an EU citizen. This allows you to travel without a visa within the EU territory, especially for stays longer than 3 months.

Apart from the above examples a visa is mandatory for nationals of non-EU countries wishing to travel to the EU and the Schengen area.

Within the Schengen area, there are two main types of visa: the short-stay visa valid for 90 days, and the long-term visa. The latter is issued to persons authorized to study, work, join their family or participate in a research project in a country in the Schengen area.

Short and long stay

Schengen visa
As a citizen of a third country, it is possible to enter and stay in a Schengen State for a period of up to 3 months. Certain conditions must be fulfilled: possession of a valid ticket, possibility of demonstrating the purpose of the trip, sufficient means of subsistence.

A visa for a short stay is then required. Its precise period of validity is indicated on the sticker.

The Schengen visa is valid for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. This means that an absence of 90 days without interruption entitles you to a new stay of up to 90 days.


For stays longer than 90 days, a long-term visa (or a residence permit) is required. Each EU country sets its own conditions for obtaining a long-stay visa. But all of them distinguish reasons for living: joining their family, studying, working or conducting a research project. Some countries require both a long-stay visa and a residence permit.

As a general rule, a visa issued by a Schengen State allows entry and residence in another Schengen State. However, at the border or during other checks, you may be asked to present not only your visa, but also other documents certifying, for example, that you have sufficient means to cover the costs of your stay and your trip back.

A long-stay visa or residence permit issued by a Schengen State entitles you to travel or stay in another Schengen country during a short stay.

Flights between two or more Schengen states are referred to as domestic flights: depending on your nationality, you may need a short-stay visa even if you only spend a few hours in a Schengen airport, outside of the international transit zone for which this visa is not required. This is particularly the case when traveling to a Schengen State via the airport of another Schengen State, or a trip to a country which is not part of the Schengen Area via two Schengen airports.

In addition, nationals of certain countries also need an "airport transit visa" to enter the international transit zone of an airport of all or some of the countries of the country.

The European Union has common rules on visas for short stays. It has also harmonized the procedures and conditions for issuing short-stay visas and airport transit. Finally, the third element of the common visa policy concerns the unique format of the visa sticker.

The visa application must be made to the consulate of the country where you intend to go. If you plan to move to more than one Schengen state, the application must be made to the consulate of the country which is your main destination.

If you intend to stay in several Schengen States for equivalent periods, the application must be sent to the consulate of the country whose external borders you will first cross into the Schengen area. In some countries, a Schengen state may not have a consulate and may be represented by the consulate of another Schengen state.

As a general rule, the visa application must be sent between 3 months and 15 calendar days before the start of the trip.

If you do not fulfill the conditions of entry and residence in an EU country, you do not have permission to be there. This is the case if you are not in possession of a visa or an adequate residence permit, or if you remain in the country after the expiry date of your visa or permit.