Understanding the Schengen Zone When Travelling to Europe

Canadians exploring Europe have it easy when it comes to obtaining a tourist visa. For short-term Canadian travellers (trip length less than 90 days), there are no requirements in order to visit most European countries except having a valid passport. For those wishing to extend their stay in Europe, you must familiarize yourself with the Schengen area and its limitations.

What is the Schengen area?

According to the Government of Canada, the Schengen area is a zone in Europe in which countries have “agreed to create common entry and exit requirements in order to remove the need for internal borders. As long as Schengen area entry requirements are met, the agreement allows foreigners to travel freely between participating countries without having to go through border controls.”

In simpler terms, this means that as a Canadian you can visit any European country part of the Schengen area for a maximum length of 90 days. You can travel during this period without a visa and without having to present your travel document when you cross borders. Note that you still need to have a valid passport for the entire duration of your trip and that there might be arbitrary verifications on trains or at the check-in counter when taking flights.

What countries are part of the Schengen area?

Out of the 44 countries in Europe according to the United Nations, 26 countries are officially part of the Schengen area. They include: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Is it the same as the European Union (EU)?

No. Not all Schengen area countries are part of the EU, such as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Additionally, there are countries that are part of the EU, but are not in the Schengen area such as Bulgaria, Croatia, the Republic of Cyprus, Ireland and Romania.

Following the “Brexit”, the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) will no longer be part of the EU. It is also not part of the Schengen Area. However, Canada being part of the Commonwealth means that Canadians can get up to 180 days on a tourist visa.

Finally, there are European countries that are neither part of the EU nor the Schengen area and they include: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and Vatican City. You can visit the Government of Canada website to obtain more information concerning the visa requirements for these countries.

Do all countries in the Schengen area have the same currency?

No. Only the countries part of the eurozone share the euro as a common currency. Schengen area countries that do not use the euro include the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland. Although it might be easy to hop from one of these countries to the next, you are still required to switch currency!

What are the limitations in terms of length of stay?

You can legally stay in countries within the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days during a 180-day period. Those 90 days don’t need to be consecutive. You are free to travel in and out of the Schengen area as you please, but every time you enter a Schengen area country, it will count towards your 90-day stay. Both the 90-day and 180-day counter start upon arrival to your first Schengen area country.

Here is a scenario to better understand the calculation. Alternatively, you can also use the Short-Stay visa calculator to determine the number of days you are allowed to stay in any of the Schengen area countries considering your previous stays in the Schengen area.

Scenario 1
You are planning to visit your family in Crete (Greece) for the summer and would love to travel to Italy and Croatia while you are in Europe.
Travel dates in Italy: May 28 – June 5
Travel dates in Greece: June 5-19
Travel dates in Croatia: June 19-28
Travel dates in Greece: June 28 – August 18

Total days spent in the Schengen Area: 75 days
Total days spent in Europe: 83 days

The days spent in Croatia do not count towards the 90-day visa allowance since it is not part of the Schengen area. The 180-day period starts from the arrival in Italy, on May 28 and extends until November 23rd of the same year. If you wish to subsequently visit the Schengen area during this time, you would only be allowed 15 days, capping the 90-day limit.

That being said, it is always wise to include a little buffer in your itinerary just in case you encounter any delays, cancellations or any other unfortunate event.

Unravelling all these visa requirements and length-of-stay calculations can be quite confusing and can become a source of stress. Regardless of the time spent in Europe and within the Schengen area, avoid unnecessary worries by subscribing to a travel insurance plan. Call your travel insurance representative now to find the solution most appropriate for your specific needs.

Article by Nomad Junkies team