This guest post is written by Minneapolis based writers Ashlee Kronforst and Ryan Monk.
You can find more of their writing on their blog Twice the Baggage.
Planning a trip to Europe and confused by something you came across called the Schengen Area? You're not alone.
We'll dive into the specifics of this agreement between more than two dozen European countries. Just know this: It's your pass to travel freely throughout Europe. No visas necessary!
What is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Area consists of 26 European countries that have no border controls and no visa requirements. That means so long as your stay is relatively short, you can travel freely throughout these 26 countries. The key to remember is that you can only stay in Schengen countries for 90 days out of every six months. So if you're planning a simple vacation, no need to worry.
So what countries make the cut? Take a look.
The 26 countries include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.
You can also get into three European microstates: Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City.
Note that the United Kingdom and Ireland don't make the cut. Nor does Croatia – though this incredible country is on track to join the area in 2020. Many of the Balkan states like Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, or Montenegro are also not part of the Schengen Area.
What You Need to Know About Visiting the Schengen Area
As with all international travel, U.S. citizens should always carry their passports. So long as your stay in Schengen countries is under 90 days, you're set. You won't need a visa, and you can travel easily between other Schengen countries. Keep in mind that your passport must be issued within the last 10 years and be valid for at least another three months beyond the date you leave Europe.
Are you a citizen from outside the U.S.? Then you might need a special Schengen Visa to visit any of these 26 countries. Review the list of countries whose citizens require a Schengen Visa. Review the Schengen Area Visa application requirements.
But if you have an extended stay coming up in any of these countries, it's different. If you're staying in a country for more than 90 days within a six-month period, you'll need a national visa through that country – not a Schengen Visa.
Changes Coming for your Schengen Area Visit
The Schengen Area makes your trip across Europe much easier. At least for now.
It could be changing as soon as 2021, when the European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS, launches. Once live, it will require U.S. visitors to Schengen Area countries to apply for an ETIAS visa online. The cost of those visas isn't yet known, but the government says the application “will not require more than 10 minutes per applicant.”
Read more on ETIAS visas to get prepared.
So long as your trip to Europe is under three months, the Schengen Area will make it easier to make your way throughout much of Europe. Take advantage of this visa-free feature while you still can!