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Migration and Home Affairs
17 April 2024

Schengen, borders and visa

EU citizens, non-EU residents and visitors to the EU need to be able to freely and safely travel within the EU. The Schengen Area has made this a concrete reality.

The Schengen Area is one of the greatest achievements of the EU. It is an area without internal borders, an area within which citizens and many non-EU nationals staying legally in  the EU can freely circulate without being subjected to border checks. Since 1985, it has gradually grown and encompasses almost all EU Member States and a few associated non-EU countries.

While having abolished their internal borders, Schengen countries have also tightened controls at their common external border on the basis of common Schengen rules to ensure the security of those living or travelling within the Schengen Area.

Schengen area

The Schengen area is an area without internal borders, where EU citizens, non-EU residents and visitors can travel safely and freely.

Common European Asylum System

The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a Schengen visa for entering the EU, and a list of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement.

Border crossing

EU countries work together to secure EU’s external borders. Common rules apply for border checks and EU short-stay visas.

An example of innovative SMEs in the management of biometric data at Lisbon Airport..

Every year millions of travellers from third countries cross the external borders of the Schengen States and estimations point to ever-increasing traveller flows.

Visa Information System

The Visa Information System (VIS) collects, processes and shares information relevant to external border management among EU countries.

The security of documents used for travel purposes or as a proof of identity is essential. Advanced security features and biometrics (facial image and fingerprints) help fight against counterfeiting.

The EU uses large-scale IT systems at its external borders. Interoperability aims to allow good data management between the Union’s IT systems in the field of borders, visa, police and judicial cooperation, asylum and migration.

A single set of rules for external border checks on persons

The Schengen Borders Code governs the crossing of the external border, facilitating access for those who have a legitimate interest to enter into the EU. A common visa policy provides common rules on legal entry to the EU for a short stay (up to 90 days). For non-EU border residents who frequently need to cross the EU external border, a special Local Border Traffic Regime has been established.

Security for citizens and travellers

EU State authorities need to cooperate on border management to ensure the security of citizens and travellers in the EU. A number of information sharing mechanisms are central to this cooperation.

  • The Visa Information System (VIS) allows Schengen States to exchange visa data, in particular data on decisions relating to short-stay visa applications.
  • The Schengen Information System (SIS) allows Schengen States to exchange data on suspected criminals, on people who may not have the right to enter into or stay in the EU, on missing persons and on stolen, misappropriated or lost property.

VIS and SIS, as well as EURODAC are operated by the EU Agency for large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA).

Two additional information systems are on track to start operating:

Integration of the new complete IT architecture, that will enable a more systematic exchange of information to law enforcement officers, border guards and migration officials, and contribute to fighting identity fraud, will be implemented.

It is also necessary to ensure the security of travel documents to establish a reliable link between the document and its holder and to fight against the falsification and counterfeiting of travel documents.