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Migration and Home Affairs
12 June 2024

Schengen Area

The border-free Schengen Area guarantees free movement to more than 425 million EU citizens, along with non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU as tourists, exchange students or for business purposes (anyone legally present in the EU). Free movement of persons enables every EU citizen to travel, work and live in an EU country without special formalities. Schengen underpins this freedom by enabling citizens to move around the Schengen Area without being subject to border checks. 

Today, the Schengen Area encompasses most EU countries, except for Cyprus and Ireland. Bulgaria and Romania became the newest Member States to join the Schengen area as of 31 March 2024, any person crossing the internal air and sea borders will no longer be subject to checks. Nevertheless, a unanimous decision on the lifting of checks on persons at the internal land borders is still expected to be taken by the Council at a later date. Additionally, the non-EU States Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein also have joined the Schengen Area.

Freedom and security for travellers

The Schengen provisions abolish checks at EU's internal borders, while providing a single set of rules for controls at the external borders applicable to those who enter the Schengen area for a short period of time (up to 90 days). 

The Schengen area relies on common rules covering in particular the following areas:

  • crossing the EU external borders, including the types of visa needed,
  • harmonisation of the conditions of entry and of the rules on short stay visas (up to 90 days),
  • cross-border police cooperation (including rights of cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit),
  • stronger judicial cooperation through a faster extradition system and the transfer of enforcement of criminal judgments,
  • the Schengen Information System (SIS) and
  • documents needed for travelling in Europe.

Police checks and temporary border controls

Any person, irrespective of their nationality, may cross the internal borders without being subjected to border checks. However, the competent national authorities can carry out police checks at internal borders and in border areas, provided that such checks are not equivalent to border checks. The non exhaustive list of criteria allowing to assess if police checks is equivalent to border controls is set out in the Schengen Borders Code. The Code is complemented by relevant case-law of the Court of Justice. It includes the following elements:

  • the police checks do not have border control as an objective,
  • are based on general police information and experience,
  • are carried out in a manner clearly distinct from systematic border checks on persons at the external borders,
  • are carried out on the basis of spot-checks.

The police carry out checks under the national law of the Schengen country. Depending on the exact purpose, they can, for example, include identity checks.

For more information on police checks in internal border areas see cases of the European Court of Justice C-188/10 (Melki), C-278/12 (Adil) and C-444/17 (Arib).

Temporary reintroduction of border controls

If there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security, a Schengen country may exceptionally temporarily reintroduce border control at its internal borders.

If such controls are reintroduced, the Member State concerned has to inform the Council (and thus, other Schengen countries), the European Parliament and the European Commission as well as the public. The Commission provides more information on the current reintroductions of internal border controls on the website: Temporary Reintroduction of Border Control.

Proposal to reform the Schengen Borders Code

The proposal to amend the Schengen Borders Code, submitted by the Commission on 14 December 2021, has three main objectives:

  • to offer solutions to ensure that internal border checks remain a measure of last resort and to provide flexibility to Member States’ use of alternative and proportionate measures to the challenges they address
  • to build on lessons-learned from the COVID-19 pandemic
  • to respond to the recent challenges at EU’s external borders

The proposal to amend the Schengen Borders Code is both the result of extensive consultations with Member States, as well as a response to the latest developments at EU’s external borders.

Interinstitutional negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission started on 7 November 2023. 

On 30 November 2020 and 17 May 2021, the Commission organised two Schengen Forums. The aim was to gain better insight into the needs of Schengen States, in particular, regarding the situation at internal borders. The Forums allowed for constructive exchanges towards building a stronger and more resilient Schengen area.

The discussions on both events provided the basis for the Strategy towards a fully functioning and resilient Schengen area, which was presented by the Commission in June 2021. The Schengen Strategy took stock of the progress made on the fundamental pillars of the Schengen area and other key measures sustaining the area of freedom, security and justice. It also announced a proposal for amendment of the Schengen Borders Code.

Criteria for countries to join the Schengen Area

Joining the Schengen Area is not merely a political decision of the joining State. Countries must fulfil a list of pre-conditions:

  • apply the common set of Schengen rules (the so-called "Schengen acquis"), e.g. regarding controls of land, sea and air borders (airports), issuing of visas, police cooperation and protection of personal data,
  • take responsibility for controlling the external borders on behalf of other Schengen countries and for issuing uniform Schengen visas,
  • efficiently cooperate with law enforcement agencies in other Schengen countries, to maintain a high level of security, once border controls between Schengen countries are abolished,
  • connect to and use the Schengen Information System (SIS)

Countries wishing to join the Schengen area must undergo a series of Schengen evaluations to confirm whether they fulfil the conditions necessary for the application of the Schengen rules.

Once the Schengen Evaluation confirms the readiness of the Member State to join the area without internal border controls, a unanimous approval from all other Member States applying the Schengen acquis in full is required.

Bulgaria and Romania have successfully accomplished the Schengen evaluation process set out in their Treaties of Accession, taking all the necessary measures to ensure application of all relevant parts of the Schengen acquis. On 30 December 2023, the Council unanimously agreed on the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area. Thus, as of 31 March 2024, both Member States will start applying Schengen rules. Controls at internal air and sea borders between Bulgaria and Romania and countries of the Schengen area will be lifted as of 31 March 2024. The Council agreed that a further decision should be taken at an appropriate date for the removing checks at internal land borders.

In addition, the Schengen evaluation process to assess the readiness to join the Schengen area is ongoing for Cyprus. The Schengen Information System in Cyprus was put into operation in July 2023 and this process was already verified by a dedicated Schengen evaluation in 2023. 

For more information on the Schengen Evaluation and Monitoring mechanism see Schengen evaluation and monitoring.

Background: Free movement in Europe

Originally, the concept of free movement was to enable the European working population to freely travel and settle in any EU State, but it fell short of abolishing border controls within the Union. 

A break-through was reached in 1985 in Schengen (a small village in Luxembourg), with the signing of the Agreement on the gradual abolition of checks at common borders, followed by the signing of the Convention implementing that Agreement in 1990. The implementation of the Schengen Agreements started in 1995, initially involving seven EU countries. 

Born as an intergovernmental initiative, the developments brought about by the Schengen Agreements have now been incorporated into the body of rules governing the EU. 

Related documents

Related links

Schengen evaluation and monitoring

The Schengen evaluation and monitoring mechanism monitors the implementation of the Schengen acquis – common set of Schengen rules that apply to all EU countries.