With an area of more than 4.3 million square kilometers and a population of over 423 million, the Schengen Area is one of the most important visa-free zones globally. We’ve heard its name thrown around and we may be able to name a handful of the European member states that make up the zone—but what actually is the Schengen Area? Do you need to apply for a Schengen Visa? And, more importantly, how do you apply for a Schengen Visa?

The borderless travel concept may be one of the greatest policies for nationals of the member states, but things start to become a little more complicated when hoping to visit the area. From the different visa types to the 90/180-day rule, the Schengen Area can be quite the headache. Find out everything you need to know about the Schengen Area and how to apply for a Schengen Visa in our practical guide to visiting Europe. 

What is the Schengen Area?

The Schengen Area is the world’s largest visa-free zone in which a total of 27 European countries have removed their internal borders. This allows for unrestricted travel throughout the zone with unified rules for external border control alongside the strengthening of the common judicial system. The zone covers the majority of the EU countries (with the exception of Ireland). Non-EU nations also form part of the area with Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland making up part of the Schengen Area.

In addition to the 27 countries that currently make up the Schengen Area, Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus are all soon to join the zone. 

What Countries make up the Schengen Area?

There are 27 European countries that make up the Schengen Area, covering an area of more than 4.3 million square kilometers and a population of over 423 million. The zone is currently made up of the following member states:

  • Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Currently, just four EU members have not joined the Schengen Area: Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, all of which are legally obligated to join the area in the future, and Ireland, which continues to opt out of the agreement. 

The three European microstates, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City are not part of the visa-free zone, although these countries have open borders. These microstates are referred to as de facto members due to the practicalities of traveling to or from the areas without traveling via at least one country that is part of the Schengen Zone. Despite their location outside of the European continent, the Azores, the Canary Islands, and Madeira are all recognized as special EU members are remain part of the Schengen Zone. 

What is a Schengen Visa?

A Schengen visa is a type of short-stay visa allowing an individual to travel to any of the 27 countries that make up the zone for up to 90 days. The visa can be used for either tourism or business purposes and is the most common visa required when visiting Europe. The Schengen visa can be used to travel freely within the Schengen Area with no border controls separating member states from one another. For stays longer than 90 days, visitors must apply for a separate national visa of the specific European country of choice—not the Schengen Visa. 

Do I Need a Schengen Visa to Visit Europe?

Although there are nationals of countries that are not required to hold a specific Schengen visa when entering the zone (such as the UK). There are currently more than 60 countries, in which citizens are not required to obtain a visa before traveling to Europe. Other nationals may instead be required to satisfy thorough checks, attend interviews, and complete processes to obtain the correct visa. Information surrounding specific nationals can be found under the travel section of different government websites. 

How Long Can I Stay in Europe With the Schengen Visa?

The length of time that can be spent in Europe with a Schengen visa is determined by the visa type and the terms of the embassy/consulate of the destination country. The most common form of visa permits travelers to spend a maximum of 90 days every 180 days in the Schengen Area. Frequent travelers that require a visa when visiting Europe may be eligible to claim an EU visa—valid for a maximum of five years. However, this visa type does not bypass the maximum 90 days in every 180-day period offered with the typical Schengen visa. 

How to Calculate Remaining Schengen Days

Unless visiting Europe for the maximum 90-day blocks, calculating the remaining days on a Schengen visa can be difficult. The main rule of the visa is that visitors may only spend 90 days in every 180 in the Schengen area. This 180-day period is, however, not a fixed timescale and rather acts as a sliding scale, starting from the first date of entry to the Schengen Zone. 

The “Calculator of travel days remaining under a Schengen short-stay visa” is an online tool allows users to input the date of entry/control and their previous stay(s) in the Schengen area.

How to Apply for a Schengen Visa

The application process for the Schengen Visa differs with a number of factors (visa type, country of residence, destination country, etc.). Here’s our step-by-step guide to applying for all different types of Schengen Visa:

1. What Schengen Visa Type is Needed?

The first step to applying for a Schengen Visa is to decode which visa type is needed, which are:

  • Tourism Visa
  • Study Visa
  • Transit Visa
  • Visa for Visiting Family or Friends
  • Business Visa
  • Visa for Medical Reasons
  • Visa for Journalists
  • Visa for Culture and Sports Activities
  • Visa for Official Visits

2. Where to Apply for the Schengen Visa?

How and where the visa should be applied depends on how the destination country regulates visa submission from the applicant's country of residence. According to these factors, a Schengen visa application must be applied for at one of the following:

  • Destination Embassy 
  • Destination Consulate
  • Visa Center
  • Embassy/Consulate of an Alternative Schengen State

As the Schengen Zone permits the freedom to travel across all member states, the “destination country” can feel redundant. However, there is a short list of rules that must be adhered to when applying:

  • When visiting one Schengen country, the application must be submitted at the embassy/consulate/visa center of that country.
  • When visiting two or more Schengen countries (Unequal Number of Days), the application must be submitted at the embassy/consulate/visa center of the country where most days will be spent.
  • When visiting two or more Schengen countries (Equal Number of Days), the application must be submitted at the embassy/consulate/visa center of the country that you arrive in first.

3. When to Apply for the Schengen Visa?

All applications for the Schengen Visa must be submitted during an appointed period. This is to allow for the worldwide embassies/consulates to process and function at the required rate. All applicants must follow the permitted timelines:

  • The earliest an application can be submitted is six months before a planned trip begins.
  • The latest an application can be submitted is 15 working days before the intended travel date.
  • The recommended time to submit a visa application is a minimum of three weeks before your trip.

4. How to Book a Schengen Visa Appointment 

For the majority of applications, a Schengen visa appointment must be scheduled to proceed with the application process. Most applicants will be able to book their Schengen Visa appointment online. However, some countries may require the appointment to be made in person. More information can be found each government’s official website.

5. Complete the Schengen Visa Application Form

Regardless of the different country’s application process, the application form for the Schengen visa follows the same format. Applicants can simply download the application form and complete their personal details, including the following: 

  • Personal information
  • Background information
  • Purpose of visit to the Schengen Area
  • Other details of the trip

6. Collect all Necessary Schengen Visa Documentation

Alongside the Schengen Visa application form, applicants must provide a selection of additional documents, necessary for a successful application:

  • Valid passport
  • Two identical passport photos
  • Travel insurance policy covering the trip length
  • Round trip reservation or flight itinerary (must include dates, flight numbers, etc. with entry and exit from the Schengen zone)
  • Proof of accommodation
  • Proof of financial means

In addition to this list of traditional travel documents, applicants may be required to provide a small number of visa-specific documents. These are dependent on the type of Schengen visa you apply for. Note that some Schengen member states may also list additional requirements for visa applicants. These will be clearly highlighted in the visa application forms.

7. Attend the Schengen Visa Interview 

After completing the visa application form and collecting all necessary documents, applicants are then required to attend their scheduled Schengen Visa interview. During the visit to the embassy, consulate, or visa center, applicants will meet a consular who will verify all previously collected documents. The interview should be expected to last approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Applicants should be clear and honest about their trip and intentions when visiting the Schengen zone. 

Example Schengen Visa Interview Questions

Below are some examples of the questions that applicants may be asked during the Schengen visa interview process: 

  • What is the trip purpose of the visit to the Schengen Zone?
  • Which Schengen Area countries are you planning to visit?
  • Are you married or in a relationship? If yes, how long have you been together? What does your partner do for a living?
  • What do you do for a living? Which company are you employed by?
  • Do you have friends or family members who live in Europe?
  • How long are you planning on staying in Europe?
  • Where are you planning on staying during your trip to Europe?

8. Make Payment of the Schengen Visa Fee

When applying for the Schengen visa, a non-refundable administration fee of €80 per person must be paid to allow the application to be completed and processed. This is the synchronized fee across all Schengen members. Depending on circumstances (children, etc.), some people may pay reduced fees or have the fee waived. Full details of fee reductions can be found in the list of Schengen Visa reductions and exemptions.

9. Await the Verdict of the Schengen Visa

For the majority of cases, the visa application will be processed and a verdict issued within 15 days of submission. In some instances, the visa processing period can be extended up to 45 days, depending on the country of residence. 

What to Do when the Schengen Visa is Accepted? 

If a Schengen Visa application is accepted, the applicant can then travel to their chosen destination. All applicants should carefully note the labels on their visa sticker, citing the permitted visa period. It is vital that all successful applicants avoid overstaying the visa period. Consequences of a visa overstay can include deportation, fines, and bans from reentering the Schengen Area. 

What to do if the Schengen Visa is Rejected?

If a Schengen Visa application has been rejected, applicants can find the reason listed attached to the visa verdict. If the applicant believes that the visa rejection is a mistake, the verdict can be appealed. 


From defining the Schengen Area itself to learning how to apply for each of the different Schengen visa types—we hope our guide has helped shine some light on the 27-nation zone. The Schengen Area is one of the biggest issues for non-member state national digital nomads looking to live in and explore Europe. Although there are a handful of digital nomad visas that do permit Schengen privileges, navigating the red tape can still be a tricky process.

We’re looking forward to seeing what the future brings for digital nomads in Europe, but for now, it’s the constant battle of 90-day stays for most remote workers!

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