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Migration and Home Affairs

The border-free Schengen Area cannot function efficiently without a common visa policy which facilitates the entry of legal visitors into the EU, while strengthening internal security. The EU has established a common visa policy for transit through or intended stays in the territory of a Schengen States of no more than 90 days in any 180 days period and for transit through the international transit areas of airports of the Schengen States.

Main elements of the common visa policy

Citizens from some non-EU countries are required to hold a visa when travelling to the Schengen Area. The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a visa when crossing the external borders and a list of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement. These lists are set out in Regulation (EU) 2018/1806. Generally, a short-stay visa issued by one of the Schengen States entitles its holder to travel throughout the 26 Schengen States for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Visas for visits exceeding that period remain subject to national procedures.

Credit: EC-GISCO, Administrative boundaries ©Eurogeographics ©UN-FAO

This map is for reference purposes only. The rules in force regarding visa requirements are set out in Regulation 2018/1806 The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the European Union concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

List of individual Schengen States’ ATV requirements

Decisions on visa free access to the Schengen Area may follow from bilateral negotiations. They are based on the progress made by the countries concerned in implementing major reforms in areas such as the strengthening of the rule of law, combating of organised crime, corruption and illegal migration and improving of administrative capacity in border control and security of documents.

The second element of the common visa policy is the EU Visa Code (consolidated version of February 2020). It sets out the procedures and conditions for issuing visas for the purpose of short stays and airport transit. Operational instructions for the application of the Visa Code are further specified in the Handbook for the processing of visa applications and the modification of issued visas and the Handbook for the administrative management of visa processing (List of annexes).

The third element of the common visa policy is the uniform format for the visa sticker.

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Visa reciprocity

The EU aims at achieving full visa reciprocity with the non-EU countries whose nationals are exempt from the visa requirement. Thus, EU citizens would not need a visa either for travelling to these non-EU countries.

For that purpose, a visa reciprocity mechanism is set out in Regulation No 1806/2018 (article 7).

Visa facilitation agreements

So far, the EU has concluded visa facilitation agreements with the following non-EU countries. Based on these agreements, both the EU and non-EU citizens benefit from facilitated procedures for issuing visas.

Visa facilitation agreements are linked to readmission agreements. Readmission agreements establish the procedures for the return to the EU or to the partner non-EU country of persons (own and third country nationals or stateless persons) in irregular situation.

EU States may also individually negotiate agreements on local border traffic with neighbouring non-EU countries. These agreements enable border residents of well-defined areas to cross the EU external borders, under certain conditions, without having to obtain a visa.

Statistics on short-stay visas issued by the Schengen States

In 2019, the 26 Schengen States issued 15 million "Schengen visas".

Who must apply

The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a visa when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement.

Where and how to apply

The Schengen visa application must be lodged at the consulate of the country that a person intends to visit.

Required documents

To apply for the Schengen visa a person must prepare a set of required documents, such as a passport, a visa application form, travel medical insurance and other documents.