What does Schengen mean? Is there a Schengen countries list? How does it impact American travel?
Updated: Jul 24
If you are like me and didn’t know much about the Schengen zone, then don’t feel bad! The Schengen area covers 27 European countries that operate with a common judicial system and police cooperation. As a U.S. citizen, the Schengen zone matters because the area regulates our time traveling in these European countries.
The 27 Schengen countries are:
Croatia (as of Jan. 2023)
It’s quite confusing because some of these countries use their own currency, yet they operate in the Schengen zone. Others, like Iceland and Norway, are not a part of the E.U. but still uphold the Schengen agreement. Still more, like Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus are E.U. members but are NOT part of the Schengen zone.
Benefits of the Schengen Zone
The biggest benefit of the Schengen zone is the ability to travel freely throughout the 27 countries without an additional visa or border checks. For U.S. citizens, we receive an automatic “Schengen visa” upon entry that is valid for 90 days in a 180-day period at no cost.
When I first heard about the visa benefits, I thought 90 days was more than enough time to explore Europe. However, as I have started the 2023 Year of Travel, I soon recognized that 90 days for 27 countries was very prohibitive! That’s 3 days per country. You can enter and leave the zone at any time, but your time is cumulative over the 180 days, so you can only spend 90 days total in a half of year. After that, you must wait until your time resets to add more days in the zone.
Both the day you arrive and the day you leave the Schengen zone count as time spent, so it’s best to give yourself a little buffer for good measure. There are several websites that help calculate your stays to ensure you can accurately track your travel. The Schengen visa website provides a good calculator, as does the European Commission.
If you overstay your 90 days within a 180-day period, you can be fined, deported and/or banned from re-entering the Schengen zone.
Change to ETIAS Requirements
Starting in 2024, U.S. citizens will have to get an online document known as ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) before entering the Schengen zone. This ETIAS requirement will keep a record of your entering and leaving the zone. This is not a visa, but rather an application waiver that screens travelers. It is part of a counter terrorism program. Applicants under 18 and above 70 will be free of charge; all others will cost €7. ETIAS are valid for 3 years and must be submitted at least 5 days before departure. It is very unlikely U.S. citizens will be denied entry, but can be due to criminal background, fraudulent information or terrorist threat.
Even when traveling within the Schengen zone, remember to keep your passport on you while traveling. While there are no set border checks, countries can request your passport at any time. Make sure your passport has 6 months validity and that it is stamped when entering and leaving the Schengen zone.
Now that you know what Schengen means and how the Schengen zone impacts U.S. travelers, I hope you can enjoy your 90 days of travel!