Visas, documents, and passports
So, you’re planning to visit Europe. Great! We would be happy to welcome you and share what makes this place amazing. Here are answers to the most common questions about preparing for your Eurotrip. Addressing them now will make your travels smooth, easy, and convenient!
What is Schengen?
The Schengen Zone makes travel in Europe simple. Basically, it refers to the 26 European countries that have abolished individual passports and border controls in exchange for a single common policy. For you, this means that no passport control exists when going from country to country in most of continental Europe.
Did you know that the Schengen Zone is the world’s largest free travel area?
What is a Schengen Visa?
Because the Schengen Zone practically functions as one entity, you only need a single visa to visit all the countries included in it. That means you can fly into France, travel to Germany, and depart from Poland all under the same simple scheme.
There are two primary types of Schengen visas: a visa waiver and a visa. The waiver allows certain passport holders (we explain more in the next paragraph) to enter the Schengen Zone without the need for a visa issued by an embassy of a Schengen country. For most people with passports on the waiver list, the waiver means that they can stay in Europe for up to 90 days each 180 days. In other words, if you spent 90 days in the Schengen Zone, you would have to leave it for 180 days before returning.
For those who need a visa, visiting a Schengen Zone country’s embassy (or outsourced visa center) will be necessary. Keep reading to learn more about that.
Who Needs a Visa to Enter Europe?
Some sixty-three countries in the world have a visa waiver for the Schengen Zone. That means people holding passports from these countries can enter and leave freely, as described above. Some countries on the visa waiver list include the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Korea, Japan, and New Zealand. If your country is not on the visa waiver list, then you will need to apply for a visa from a Schengen country at the embassy or consulate nearest to you.
Note: From 2023 onwards, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System or ETIAS will come into effect. In brief, ETIAS is an electronic system of authorization for citizens of countries that don’t require visas to enter the Schengan Zone.
How to Apply for a Schengen Visa?
If you hold a passport from a Schengen waiver country, all you need to do is come!
Just ensure your passport was issued in the last decade, is valid for at least six more months, and has several blank pages.
If you need a visa to enter the Schengen Zone, you should apply for one from the country in Europe you will visit first or spend the most time in. All visas must be processed and issued at the embassy or consulate in your country of residence. Before applying for the visa consider which visa you desire. There are several types, though the most common is a tourist visa.
To make the process simple, here is an overview of the steps you will need to take:
- Most Schengen countries will have an embassy or consulate near you. It can happen, however, that one Schengen country outsources visa processing to another one, so do a simple online search to see if that applies to your home country. It’s also possible that instead of an embassy or consulate, the Schengen country in question has a visa center. This can also be determined with a simple online search.
- Processing Schengen visas can take time. Our advice: apply early! The earliest you can apply is six months in advance, and the latest, 15 days. The rule of thumb should always be: earlier is better.
- Once you have arranged your plans, book an appointment. This can usually be done online, though in some countries you must make the appointment in person.
- Fill out the relevant application materials and gather all your materials. The standard list of documents includes the visa application form, a valid passport, two identical photos, travel insurance, a round trip reservation (or at least a flight itinerary with specific dates and flight numbers), proof of lodging, and proof that you can support yourself financially.
- The last step is to attend the interview and pay the fee.
Tip: even if you have a valid Schengen visa, it’s important to bring your supporting documents with you to Europe. You might be asked at the border for proof of lodging, means, and return passage.
Travel & Entry Restrictions in Response to Coronavirus
Though the Covid situation has improved greatly over the last year or so, rules change fast, and no one knows what might happen in the coming months. The best thing to do is to check the relevant ministry website of the country where you plan to arrive to check if any new developments might impact your plans.
In general, visitors to Europe no longer need vaccinations or negative Covid tests. Nevertheless, it would be wise to consult your primary physician to see if he or she recommends any immunizations. On the off chance that you get sick with Covid (or something else) while in Europe, make sure your insurance policy will cover you here. As for general medical precautions, bring your insurance card, carry prescriptions in their original packaging and in carry-on luggage, and bring enough medicine to last for the duration of your trip. Know that any prescriptions will need to be issued by a doctor. Pharmacies are common in European cities, towns, and villages, and are often marked by a green cross.
Tip: it’s a great idea to learn the word for pharmacy in several European languages, such as Chemist, Pharmacy, Pharmacia, or Apotheek!
For the latest information on Covid, here are two useful websites: Visit Europe – Covid information and Re-Open Europe from the European Commission. Via these links, you will find the latest info about your favorite destinations.