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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

On the basis of a case-by-case assessment of the list of visa-free and visa-required third countries, the Commission can propose to the European Parliament and to the Council a decision on visa exemptions. The Commission conducts the assessment on the basis of a variety of criteria relating, among others, to irregular immigration, public policy and security, economic benefit, in particular in terms of tourism and foreign trade, and the EU’s external relations with the relevant third countries, including, in particular, considerations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the implications of regional coherence and reciprocity. New decisions on visa exemption are usually followed by bilateral negotiations on a visa waiver agreement.

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".

Visa digitalisation: Travel to the EU becomes easier

In today's digital age, applying for a visa is still a lengthy and heavily paper-based process. Applicants have to travel to submit their application and collect their visa afterwards, leading to accumulating costs for both travelers and consulates.

The Pact on Migration and Asylum proposed by the Commission in September 2020, set the objective of making the visa procedure fully digitalised by 2025. On 27 April, the Commission presented a proposal on the digitalisation of the Schengen visa process. It aims to:

  • replace the visa sticker and introduce the ability to submit visa applications online through a European online visa platform
  • improve the visa application process
  • reduce the costs and burden on EU countries, as well as the applicants

For more information about the proposal visit the dedicated "Questions and Answers" webpage.

To test the future Schengen visa online platform, eu-LISa, in coordination with the Commission and EU countries, carried out a portal prototype between 2020 and 2021.

Related documents

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.