The border-free Schengen Area guarantees free movement to more than 400 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 Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania. However, Bulgaria and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area and already applying the Schengen acquis to a large extent. On 1 January 2023 Croatia became the newest member state to join the Schengen area. Additionally, also the non-EU States Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein 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 carries 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 is provides information on the current situation at the internal borders at its website: More information on the temporary reintroduction of border controls.
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.
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. In November 2022, the Commission adopted a Communication on the full application of the Schengen acquis in Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, calling upon the Council to take the necessary decisions without any further delay, allowing these three countries to join the area without internal border controls. In December 2022 the Council adopted a decision on the full application of the Schengen acquis in Croatia. 1 January 2023 Croatia became the 27th member of the Schengen area.
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 will be put into operation soon and this process will be 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.
- Communication on the full application of the Schengen acquis in Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia
- Report of the voluntary based fact-finding mission to Romania and Bulgaria on the application of the Schengen acquis and its development since 2011
- Report of the complementary voluntary fact-finding mission to Romania and Bulgaria on the application of the Schengen acquis and its developments since 2011
- Notifications under Article 19 of Regulation (EC) No 1931/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 laying down rules on local border traffic at the external land borders of the Member States and amending the provisions of the Schengen Convention List of notifications of bilateral agreements under Article 19 of Local Border Traffic Regulation
- Notifications under Article 14(5) of Regulation (EC) No 2016/399 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 09 March 2016 on a Union Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code) (codification). Statistics on the number of persons refused entry at the external borders of EU States
- Notifications under Article 39 of Regulation (EC) No 2016/399 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 09 March 2016 on a Union Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code) (codification)
- List of notifications under Article 39 (Schengen Borders Code) (codification)
- List of border crossing points (consolidated version)
- List of residence permits (consolidated version)
- Reference amounts for crossings of the EU’s external borders (overview and consolidated version)
- List of national services responsible for border control (consolidated version)
- Model cards issued by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Member States to accredited members of diplomatic missions and consular representations and members of their family (consolidated version part 1 and part 2)
- List of specimen of residence permits (consolidated version part 1 and 2)
- Notifications under Article 42 of Regulation (EC) No 2016/399 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 09 March 2016 on a Union Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code) (codification)
- Lists of notifications under Article 42 (Schengen Borders Code) (codification)
- Commission Implementing Decision establishing the report of 2019 - 2020 thematic evaluation of Member States` national strategies for integrated border management and Annex 1
- Commission report on the functioning of the Schengen evaluation and monitoring mechanism, First multiannual evaluation programme (2015-2019)
- Commission report (2015) 675 on the functioning of the Schengen area
- Commission report (2013) 326 on the functioning of the Schengen area
- Commission report (2012) 230 on the functioning of the Schengen area
- Commission report COM (2010) 554 on internal borders
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.
Temporary reintroduction of border control
EU countries can temporarily reintroduce border control in the event of a serious threat to public policy or internal security.