Travelling to Schengen zone and the EU

The new European online travel permit – ETIAS will become operational as of the end of 2022 and in 2023, it will be mandatory for all those who now travel visa-free to the Schengen Zone.

Indeed, all nationals from the visa-exempt countries who are now visiting the Schengen Area by only presenting their passports will have to apply for the online travel authorization before boarding. They will, however, have the opportunity to visit not only the countries from the Schengen Zone but also all of the European Union. One online travel permit to cover them both.

What are the differences between the Schengen and the EU areas?

Although most of the EU countries are also part of the Schengen Zone, a whole territory is still excluded from the border-free agreement. At the same time, the Schengen Zone comprises countries that are not part of the European Union.

Members Area Population
Schengen Zone 26 (incl. 22 EU members) 4,233,255 km2 447 million
European Union 27 4,312,099 km2 419 million


According to the above, the data in terms of member states, covered area, and population looks almost the same and one could wrongly assume that both Organisations cover the same territory.

One of Continent’s far West points is not a member of the European Union while its most East, although a member of the EU, is not part of the Schengen agreement.

Schengen, Luxembourg

Schengen, Luxembourg

The Schengen Agreement

The Schengen Zone is named after a tiny Luxembourg city where the European countries sealed their free cross-border agreement in 1985. Having only 5 members in the beginning, the Zone grew up to 26 states.

Initially, this agreement was thought to ease the frontiers’ crossing of people working in the border areas. It also aimed the encouragement of region’s tourism.

Today, the Schengen Zone comprises of 27 European states in both in and out of the EU. Over the past 36 years, it was ensuring the free movement of its more than 440 million citizens, goods, and tourists from third countries.

Apart from the EU states that during the years have joint the Schengen Area, a small number of non-EU members have signed different types of agreements with the Zone:


Non-EU states and their relationship with the Schengen Zone


Known for its neutrality, the Swiss Confederation is not a member of the EU. As of 2009 though, the country joined the Schengen Area. The decision was made after a 2005 popular referendum with 55% voting in favour of the free border passing. Although member of the Schengen Zone, Switzerland’s customs continue to operate.


The Kingdom of Norway tried twice to join the European Union. The question on whether the country will become a member of the EU was first put to a referendum in 1974. Back then, 53.5% voted against it. More than 30 years after, in 1994, a second referendum was held. With the same result of 52.2% against, the country halted its plans to become a member-state for good. Nevertheless, as being part of the Schengen Zone as well as of the European Economic Area, Norway is ensuring the free passing of people and goods across its borders with the sole exception its Arctic lands.


In 2009, Iceland started accession negotiations with the European Union. In 2015 though the Nordic country decided to drop plans to join the EU. The main reason behind this are the fishing rights and disputes the country use to have with the UK. Despite this, Iceland is a key member of the European Free Trade Association, the European Economic Area, and the Schengen Zone resulting in the fact that several thousand Icelanders now study, work, and live in the EU. At the same time, each year hundreds of Schengen Zone visa-exempt travellers enter the country without having to pass the border control.


As a microstate, the Principality of Liechtenstein has always been closely related to the Swiss economy and its international liaisons. A member of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area, the country has access to the EU single market and applies the Union’s laws. In 2008, Liechtenstein signed the Schengen Agreement. As of 2011, the Principality can be visited freely not only from Switzerland but also from Austria.
San Marino


The Republic of San Marino is entirely enclosed by Italy – one of the EU states. Not being a member of the European Union nor of the Schengen Zone, San Marino is in constant talks with the EU over the application of joint policies. During the last 15 years, the microstate tried to start accession negotiations with the EU by a Parliament voting as well as holding a popular referendum. Although the majority’s vote has always been pro-EU, to date no constructive talks have been initiated. The lack of agreement between the microstate and the Schengen Area results in random border checks.


As San Marino, the Principality of Andorra, a microstate itself, is not a member of the EU nor of the Schengen Area which means that two border controls are operating on its frontiers. Positioned between France and Spain, tourists can enter visa-free from both countries but will need Schengen visa when leaving it. In addition to this, full customs check will be applied to those entering France and Spain from Andorra as the microstate applies low VAT on some goods including tobacco, spirits, and petrol.


The tiny Principality of Monaco is entirely enclosed by France – an EU member which also represents most of its interests in front of the European Union. Although not a member of the Schengen Area, the entry to Monaco is border-free. Regarding Principality joining the EU or other European organisations, the chances for this are low. Especially after the 2013 report issued from the European Commission where the EC is quoted as saying that their relationship with the three microstates – San Marino, Andorra, and Monaco are fragmented. The same report sais that: the participation of the small-sized countries in the EEA is not judged to be a viable option at present due to the political and institutional reasons.
The Vatican The smallest state on Earth, the Holy See is an ecclesiastical microstate with the Pope on top of its governance. Impossible as it is for this absolute monarchy to join any of the EU organisations, the Vatican communicates with Europe through various missions. Located in Rome, the entry to this microstate is of course border-free.


During the years, the Schengen Zone Agreement between its member-states and the external associates managed to ensure the free and secure movement of its citizens and visitors. Meanwhile, the EU added three new members which are now waiting to join the Club.

New EU member

Burgas, Bulgaria

 The new EU members and the free crossing of borders

Although just three, the new EU members – Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania are all located on the Balkan peninsula making it impossible for the visa-exempt countries’ nationals to travel border-free to this region. Despite the continuous negotiations to become part of the Schengen Area, these countries are still out of the Agreement mainly due to unsolved problems with corruption and the freedom of speech.

EU states not part of the Schengen Agreement
Bulgaria Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007. Since then, the country is working on joining the Schengen Area and the Eurozone. None of the precedent has yet happened due to inconsequent policy, signs for corruption among country’s justice system, and continuous drop in World Press Freedom ranking. Equally important for allowing Bulgaria to the Schengen Zone is its geographical location. As of 2007, Bulgarian border became EU’s external, most eastern frontier that also draws the line between Europe and Asia.
Romania On 1 January 2007, Romania became member of the EU. The country is still waiting to join the Eurozone and the Schengen Area. Although Romania is constantly showing its determination in signing the free-movement agreement, it is still waiting to be approved after Netherlands’ veto on Romania and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen Area back in 2011. Th country is also keeping EU’s external border that separates the Union with the ex-Soviet states still in close relation to Russia.
Croatia Croatia was the last state so far to join the EU. As of 2013, it became Union’s 27th member. As Bulgaria and Romania, Croatia is waiting to become part of the Eurozone and the Schengen Area. Unlike the other two Balkan states though, according to the European Commission, Croatia is showing positive progress on its way to join both Organisations and may well be the first of the three to introduce border-free entry to the country.


Not all the Balkan states are excluded from the Schengen Zone. Greece, who has joined the Union in 1981, is also a member of the Schengen Area. For the visa-exempt nationals, however, it is accessible either by air or boat from Italy. Otherwise, they will need a visa to exit by land.

Travelling to the UK after BREXIT

This case is unique and although the United Kingdom was part of the EU and the Schengen Zone until very recently, as of 2021 the country is taking its own path leaving the Union and all its organisations.

With border and customs control resuming operations, the UK announced that it is in process of establishing an online travel permit – eTA accessible for all the EU nationals as well as for the visa-exempt third states.

ETIAS and Europe’s new travel regulation

With the extension of the European Union borders, the negotiations with potential new EU members and challenges like terrorism, organised crime, and global pandemic, the Schengen Zone alone can no longer ensure the security of its borders.

This is why, in November 2020, the European Commission announced the establishment of ETIAS – the European Travel Information and Authorization System. This new system will pre-scan each visitor coming from the visa-exempt countries. Entirely online, this procedure will consolidate the work of the border control and the national security agencies of both the European Union and the Schengen Zone.