From next month (March 2024), air and sea border controls will be lifted for all passengers travelling to or from two more European countries into any other Schengen member.
The new additions, alongside the digitisation of the Schengen visa process which scraps visa stickers on passports – is changing the face of travel to the regional bloc, as borders dissolve, freeing up more travel tales and people-to-people connections.
This means a much expanded Schengen arena, and no more appointments at consulates or service providers’ offices.
What are the two additional countries?
Bulgaria and Romania. Both countries are European Union (EU) members, but until today, are not part of the Schengen Agreement.
The expansion signifies their inclusion as new member states within the Schengen zone.
When does it take effect?
March 31, 2024.
What does it mean?
Citizens from these countries will benefit from the privileges of free movement, allowing them to travel seamlessly across other Schengen member-states.
It will allow free movement between member states, of about 420 million citizens. This is expected to further reshape the dynamics of European travel.
What is Schengen?
Located about 35 km east of Luxembourg City, it is a small town at the tri-border of Luxembourg, Germany, and France. This town played host to the signing of the Schengen agreement in 1985 and 1990.
The Schengen visa is a result of the Schengen Implementation Convention, which lifted numerous internal borders within the EU, enabling unrestricted movement between signatory countries. The convention has significantly altered the travel dynamics in Europe.
What does it mean for travellers from non-Schengen countries?
This expansion not only enhances mobility for individuals from Bulgaria and Romania but also streamlines travel processes within Eastern Europe.
This reflects a broader effort to promote integration and unity across the European continent by eliminating border controls and fostering a more interconnected and accessible travel experience for its citizens.
How many member-countries does the Schengen zone have?
The admission of Bulgaria and Romania will expand the zone to 28 member countries, from the current 26 countries – covering an expansive area of over 4.31 million square kilometers and representing about 420 million inhabitants.
This further expands the Schengen area, already the widest free travel area globally.
• The EU, with 28 member states, has abolished internal visas and transferred some powers to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.
• It's important to highlight that some states and territories adhere to the Schengen Agreement but are not part of the Schengen convention.
• A Schengen visa-holder can visit certain areas (Madeira, the Azores, and the Canary Islands (in the Atlantic Ocean), as well as San Marino, the Vatican, Monaco, and Andorra), but they cannot enter the Schengen zone from these states/territories without a Schengen visa.
• It is best to consult with concerned authorities, travel agent or airline if you’re visiting these areas.
How many more countries are joining Schengen?
After Bulgaria and Romania, two more countries as aspiring for potential Schengen zone accession – Cyprus, and Montenegro.
Still, foreign citizens can already travel to these countries, as well as Croatia, on a Schengen visa.
Update: What are the implications for UAE residents?
If you’re a UAE resident eligible to visit Schengen, the most obvious is that the area will be much wider now.
If you are not eligible for visa-free travel within the Schengen zone (see list below), the application process is much simpler now. You can apply for your Schengen visa entirely online through a visa application platform, according to the rules adopted in November 2023 by the Council of the European Union (EU).
The online visa system simplifies the application process for travellers and eases the burden on national administrations, said Spain’s Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, whose country previously holds the presidency of the Council (now held by Belgium from January 2024).
While there are over 61 non-EU countries which have a visa-free regime with the EU, citizens of other countries are required to apply for a Schengen visa.