The Schengen Agreement (named after the village Schengen, a village directly on the three border point of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, where it was signed), as far as travellers are concerned, basically dissolves border checks when travelling between member countries.
EU, EEA and Swiss citizens enjoy the freedom of movement within the Schengen Area - which means that they can live and work without restrictions.
All other nationals are divided into two categories - Annex I and Annex II. Annex I includes countries such as China, India, Russia and South Africa; Annex II includes Albania, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Japan, Hong Kong, Israel, Macedonia, New Zealand, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States. For a full list, visit click here.
Annex I nationals need a visa to enter the Schengen Area. If they intend to spend up to 90 days in the Schengen Area, they should obtain a visa from an embassy or consulate of the main Schengen country they intend to visit - the visa will be valid for the whole of the Schengen Area and costs €60 (or €35 for Georgians, Moldvans, Russians and Ukrainians). If they intend to spend more than 90 days, they need to approach one Schengen country to apply for a national residence permit or long-term 'D' visa. The national residence permit or long-term 'D' visa allows the holder to stay in that country for the period of validity and to stay in other Schengen countries for up to 90 days each. For example, the holder of a long-term 'D' visa issued by a Portuguese embassy valid for 1 year can stay in Portugal for 180 days, Switzerland for 90 days and Denmark for 90 days. For more information on intra-Schengen travel on a residence permit/long-term 'D' visa, visit the Danish Immigration Service website.
Annex II nationals need a visa to enter the Schengen Area, unless they qualify for a visa exemption. All Annex II nationals can enter the Schengen Area as a whole visa-exempt for up to 90 days in a 180 day period. New Zealand citizens can stay visa-exempt for up to 90 days in each of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland without reference to time spent in other Schengen countries, but if they wish to travel to other Schengen countries, the normal 90 day every 180 days visa exemption period applies. More information on the special visa exemption for New Zealanders is available at the EU, NZ Government Safetravel, French Embassy, Spanish Embassy and Swiss Embassy websites. If an Annex II national doesn't qualify for a visa exemption, he/she will have to apply for a visa (see the Annex I section above for the procedure).
Therefore, the Schengen Agreement will reveal itself to be a hassle for non-EU passport holders who are Annex II nationals (except for New Zealanders), because whilst previously travellers such as Americans, Australians and Canadians could spend up to 3 months visa-free in each European country, now the 3 month visa exemption applies to the Schengen Area (most of Europe) as a whole. Hence, for foreign travellers such as Canadian, US and Australian passport holders, the remaining options will be to cross to the United Kingdom/Ireland or go down to Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Balkans, Ukraine, Turkey, Gibraltar or Morocco once nearing the end of their 90 days limit within Schengen and staying away for 90 days before re-entering a Schengen country. The UK, as well as Irish border is probably the worst of these options in terms of chances of being sent away or denied entry - similar to US, Canadian or Australian border control, non-EU citizens are interviewed about their trip and have to provide an itinerary, how much money they have, when and how they plan to leave, as well as some proof they'll eventually leave, so go prepared.
Note that sometimes within Schengen borders, especially while going along by train, policemen do come on board and ask to see your documents. Usually it's trouble-free, but they tend to harass Balkans and Turks more often than others. Also note that the Schengen Agreement only concerns immigration checks; therefore, when travelling between a Schengen country that is part of the EU and another Schengen country that isn't (such as between France and Switzerland), whilst you won't be stopped for immigration checks, selective customs checks still occur.
Some Schengen countries allow Annex II citizens to work during their stay on their visa-exemption. France, for example, permits Canadians, Israelis, Malaysians, New Zealanders and Taiwanese (as well as some other Annex II nationalities) to work during their 3 month visa exemption period. For the full list of nationalities permitted to work in France during the 3 month visa exemption period, visit the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
28 European states have signed the agreement, including most EU countries and four non-EU countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). Ireland and the United Kingdom did not sign the treaty. 26 of these countries have implemented the agreement so far.
- Czech Republic
Note that whilst Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City have not formally signed the Schengen Agreement, in practice there are no border checks when entering these countries from the Schengen Area.
DON'T DO IT. This section only concerns visa-exempt individuals (although those with visas overstay, too, procedures might differ). Overstaying means you stay longer than 90 days within a 180 day period - it is irrelevant how many times you enter and exit, the officer will always count back 180 days and determine how many days you spent in the Schengen Area. Some countries are stricter than others - anecdotal evidence suggests Northern European countries, as well as Germany, Netherlands and countries with historically tight borders (ie. the former Communist countries) are stricter. The Netherlands, Germany and Poland are notorious. In general airports have less strict inspections than land borders. Southern European countries, such as Spain and Italy are much less strict and notorious for often not stamping Western passports (which they're legally required to).
If it is found out that you have overstayed (this can be both on entry as well as exit - all Schengen countries have both entry and exit controls), the appropriate officials can issue a warning, fine or even deport you, depending on their mood, local laws and practices, as well the length of your overstay (a day or week over will most likely result in a warning, a month will get you a fine). Again, some are stricter, some not so much (see above). Fines range from 100 to 1000 euros. If deported, you'll be deported back to your home country (sometimes back to the country you just came from if this happens at entry) at your expense. You can also be given a five or ten year ban on traveling to Europe if you've overstayed.
However, the system is very outdated - only Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain collect entries and exits electronically in a national database, but this data isn't shared with anyone else (ie. if you enter through Estonia and exit through Latvia, the Latvians won't see any electronic record, even though Estonia has it). Therefore, unless you both enter and exit through the same country in the list above, border officials' only source of information is the stamp in you passport. If in doubt, officials may ask for proof of entry, such as a plane/bus ticket, but you have no obligation to supply such information. There are proposals to introduce a single, shared electronic database for entries and exits in the mid-term (possibly by 2020 or later).
Illegally exiting Schengen is virtually impossible due to a simple fact: most of the land (green) border is located between the EU and Russia/Belarus/Ukraine - the Soviet Union had extremely tight borders and to this day, most of these countries (Russia and Belarus especially) maintain a razor-wire fence on the border with the West with soldiers and sand lanes which indicate foot steps. Even if you could overcome these, getting away from the border region unnoticed is virtually impossible for a cheesy foreigner with a giant backpack. The Balkans (Hungary/Croatia, Slovenia/Croatia and Hungary/Serbia) used to be the weakest point of the Area (especially the Slovenian border), however after the events of 2015 (the Refugee Crisis), the border was greatly enhanced and now almost all of it is again cut off by razor-wire fences and patrols. Getting caught could land you with a huge fine if lucky, in jail if unlucky and shot if very unlucky, so don't do it.
- "Electronic stamps are saved on your biometric passport" - biometric chips only contain data about the bearer and officials of other countries CANNOT write information onto these chips, they can only read them
- "Westerners get a free pass to stay longer" - they get more leeway, but not much and certainly not in Germany or any of the stricter countries
- "Border officials will know from their computer how long you've stayed" - they WILL NOT, unless you BOTH enter AND exit via Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain - this is CHANGING in 2023 with the implementation of ETIAS
- "You can get your visa-free stay extended by 30 days if you request it" - no such thing, in the Schengen Area you get 90 out of 180 days and that's it (unless you're from New Zealand, see above)
- "You can just sneak out through a green border" - you can't, see above (razor-wire fences and such)
- "You can legalize your overstay with the help of a lawyer" - a lawyer can only help reduce the risk of getting an entry ban for the future, you'll still have to pay the fine and leave the Schengen Area
- "The SIS (Schengen Information System) tracks travelers' entries and exits" - the SIS is only a list of alerts about wanted/missing/undesirable people, not a list of all travelers - around 60% of all alerts are submitted by Germany.