Guidelines for Schengen Visa

How to apply for Schengen visa? - Everything you need to know!

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A Schengen Short-Stay Visa authorizes its holder to come and travel inside the Schengen Zone which is the biggest passport-free travel area in the world. All the countries of the Schengen Zone maintain open internal borders for passenger traffic and each of them is authorised to issue a Schengen short-stay visa to the third countries nationals. Citizens of each of the Zone countries can freely travel, work and reside without any limitations in any Schengen Zone member-state.

Read our article to know:

  • What are the Schengen Zone member-states
  • Which overseas territories you can visit holding a Schengen visa
  • Which countries are granted a visa-free regime to the Schengen Zone
  • How long can you stay in the European Union with the Schengen Visa
  • How to obtain a Schengen tourist visa
  • What are the differences between a Schengen tourist visa and national visas
  • How to stay in the Schengen Zone for more than 90 days.

Countries of the Schengen Area

There are now 26 Schengen Zone countries. Most of them are members of the European Union, but not all of them and vice-versa: there are some states which are in the UE but they didn’t sign the Schengen Agreement. Here you have the complete list of Schengen Zone member-states:

Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal (with the overseas territory - Madeira Island), Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (with the overseas territories - the Canary Islands and the Azores), Sweden, and Switzerland.

Additionally, 3 micro-states: Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City abolished immigration control on mutual borders with Schengen neighbor-countries.

Schengen visa waiver countries

The countries-members of the Schengen Area granted a visa-free regime to some states.

Their citizens can enter the Schengen Zone without a visa for max. 90 days during the 180-day period for a single-entry, double-entry or multiple-entry visa.

The only requirement is holding a biometric passport. It must have been issued within the last 10 years and have at least 2 blank pages. These countries are:

Albania

Andorra

Antigua And Barbuda

Argentina

Australia

Bahamas

Barbados

Bosnia And Herzegovina

Brazil

Brunei Darussalam

Canada

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

Dominica

El Salvador

North Macedonia

Georgia

Grenada

Guatemala

Vatican City State

Honduras

Israel

Japan

Kiribati

Malaysia

Marshall Islands

Mauritius

Mexico

Micronesia

Moldova

Monaco

Montenegro

New Zealand

Nicaragua

Palau

Panama

Paraguay

Peru

Samoa

San Marino

Seychelles

Serbia

Singapore

Solomon Islands

South Korea

St Kitts And Nevis

St Lucia

St Vincent And The Grenadines

Trinidad And Tobago

Tuvalu

Ukraine

United Arab Emirates

United States Of America

Uruguay

Vanuatu

Venezuela

United Kingdom

More exemptions from visa regime to Schengen Zone

There are some more groups of people who are authorised to cross the Schengen Zone’s border only with their passports.

Any person who:

  • is an EU citizen’s family member and holds the residence or EU long-term residence permit,
  • holds a passport of a “British National Overseas”, “British Overseas Territories Citizen”, “British Protected Person”, “British Subject” holder
  • holds a special residence card as a diplomatic or consular staff

Can enter the European Union without a visa.

Schengen A-type (transit) visa

If you change your flight in one of the Schengen Zone countries, you may need an Airport Transit Visa. A-type Schengen visa is obligatory for non-EU citizens travelling from one non-Schengen state to another non-Schengen who have connecting flights in a Schengen country airport.

In such a situation apply for the A category Schengen visa which allows its holder to travel through the international zone of the Schengen state airport without entering the Schengen Area.

B-type Schengen visa (non-existing any more)

This type of Schengen visa was applicable for journeys lasting less than 5 days, for example for transit by land or very short visit. Nowadays B-type visa is replaced by a C-type visa with the “transit” condition.

Schengen C-type (tourist) visa

There is more than one C-type Schengen visa. You can apply for a:

  • Tourist C-type visa
  • Business C-type visa
  • Medical C-type visa
  • Visitor C-type visa
  • Cultural C-type visa

As you can see, you are allowed to stay in Europe with a short-stay visa only for specified purposes. All C-type visas are suitable for purposes such as:

  • tourism (sightseeing, travelling, holidays, practising sports)
  • business (participating in negotiations, conferences, fairs, etc.)
  • religion and cult 
  • volunteering
  • official visit
  • visiting your family and/or friends
  • participating in a cultural or sport event
  • a training course not overstaying more than 3 months
  • making a research 
  • airport transit/seafarers transit
  • medical reasons (planned treatment, surgeries, rehabilitation)

In every case, you have to submit the basic documents and, additionally, the documents confirming your personal purpose of going to Europe. It might be, for example, an invitation letter from a person (Visitor visa) or a company (Business visa) hosting you, a letter from the cultural association in your country and the other one from the hosting cultural association in the Schengen Zone (Cultural visa) or copies of the correspondence between your doctor and the one in the Schengen member-country.

Always check what documents you need to present to prove the purpose of your stay in the Schengen Area, as requirements may vary depending on the visa profile.

Schengen D-type (national) visa

D-type long-stay Schengen visa is always the national visa and it can be issued by particular countries. This type of visa is compulsory for non-EU nationals who want to study, work or live in a Schengen country for longer than 90 days. It is issued for up to 1 year or more, depending on the purpose of the visit.

A D-type visa allows its holder to leave the chosen country and to travel in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days during each180 days until the visa expires. In this case - outside of the originally chosen Schengen state - a D-type national visa works as a C-type Schengen visa.

You can apply for a D-type Schengen visa if you intend to go to Europe for: 

  • longer than a 90-days tourism trip
  • private visit
  • professional activities
  • take up studies, take part in a training program or complete an internship
  • family reasons

A long-stay Schengen visa can be either a single or a multiple-entry visa valid for 1, 3 or 5 years.

Bear in mind, that every Schengen Area member-state has its own national visa policy and national legislative requirements and formalities that need to be met.

Where to apply for a Schengen Short-Stay Visa? 

If you are a non-EU citizen, you can apply for a Schengen visa (A or C type visa) in every diplomatic mission of any member-country of the Schengen Zone. However, it must be the country you are planning to visit as a first. Once you enter the Schengen Zone, you can circulate inside of the area, but you must cross the external border at the point-of-entry of the country which issued you the visa. For example, if you have a Polish Schengen Visa, you can enter the Schengen Zone only in Poland. When you are leaving Europe, it does not matter from which country you depart. 

If you hold a single-entry visa and you leave the Schengen Area, shall cease to be valid. To enter again to the EU you must apply for a new visa but you cannot do it before the period of 180-days from the date of issuing your previous visa.

If you think about obtaining the Schengen visa at arrival, keep in mind that is not a normal procedure, an exception rather. In such a case, a passenger must prove that it was impossible to get a visa beforehand and/or that they are travelling because of special and sudden circumstances. So, the Schengen visa at arrival may be issued to you but it is much better to apply for it in advance, in your home country.

How long can you stay in Europe with a Schengen visa?

A short-stay Schengen visa (A or C category) authorizes you to stay in the Schengen Zone for up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes within 180 days. If you hold a multiple-entry visa, you can stay in total of 90 days within every 6-months period, even if you are a frequent traveller and you hold a multiple-entry visa valid for up to 5 years.

The Schengen Area is a passport-free travel zone but it doesn’t mean that you do not need to carry your passport with you. Quite the opposite - during your stay in the EU always have your passport and visa with you. Bear in mind that you can be a subject of police or other services control and this is your responsibility to prove that you stay in the EU legally. The only proof of the fact that you have entered the European Union legally is the stamp in your passport, the one that every foreign traveller receives at the first Schengen Zone country port-of-entry. Make sure that the immigration officer of the country which issued your visa has given you this stamp. Otherwise, you may have troubles with proving the legality of your stay inside of the Schengen Zone.

Schengen Visa Application

The first step is good timing. You can apply for a Schengen visa in the following time window: 6 months to 2 weeks before the intended travel. But don’t wait until the last moment as the application process may take some more time than you expect. 

As the next move, find the embassy or consulate-general of the country in the Schengen Zone that you want to visit as a first in Europe.

Now, you need to gather all the needed documents. Basically, they are:

  • your passport issued within the last 10 years and valid for a minimum of 3 months after the end of your planned stay in the Schengen Zone. At least two blank pages of the passport must be blank;
  • 2 printed colour passport-style photos meeting the requirements and taken within the last 3 months;
  • copies of older visas if you have any;
  • Proof of the travel medical insurance valid in all European Union covering a minimum of €30,000 of medical costs;
  • complete flight itinerary with dates of the arrival and departure from the EU (a confirmed document, which can be verified online)
  • proof of financial means to support yourself during the travel which can be:
    • the last 3 months bank statement
    • valid employment contract stating your salary
    • income from a rented property
    • retirement benefit plan
    • a letter of declaration from a sponsor in a Schengen Area country-member
    • any other documents proving that you have the means to support yourself while staying in the European Union
  • addresses of accommodation during your trip
  • certificate of the criminal record of the home country (you must have no open crime case involvement)
  • proof of payment of the visa fee

Additionally, prepare the documents proving your marital and professional status. You might be asked about a marriage certificate, birth certificate of children, death certificate of a spouse, or non-objection letter from your employer or your school/university. In such a case, the institution issuing this letter must confirm that you have commitments in your home country and assure that you will return back.

Schengen Visa Appointment

Once you gather all the documents, you have to make a visa appointment. As mentioned above - you need to apply for a visa and set a meeting in the embassy or consulate-general of the country when you intend to cross the Schengen Zone border for the first time.

The visa meeting is mandatory, there is no possibility to grant you a visa without an interview. This short (10-15 minutes) conversation serves to consular officers to know better your situation and the purpose of your visit to Europe. They also have to decide if you are eligible to enter the country that they represent.

In most countries, it is possible to schedule the appointment online, but sometimes applicants must make a call or in-person. 

There is one common rule for all diplomatic missions worldwide: you will not be accepted for the interview if you don’t book it in advance. 

Very important too is to be on time. When you come late, you probably will find out that your appointment has been cancelled and you will wait for a new date.

How to behave during the meeting? Wear something a bit more official, come on time and always answer honestly and completely all the questions. There is nothing to be stressed about. If your documentary meets the requirements, you will probably be granted the visa without problems. 

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of your travel to this specific country?
  • What is your travel plan and itinerary?
  • How many days do you plan to be in the given country and possibly in the Schengen Zone?
  • Which countries are you going to visit?
  • Do you know someone in this country?
  • Are you married? Do you have children?
  • Do you have any contractual obligations in your home country?
  • Is it your intention to take a paid job or settle down in the Schengen Zone?
  • Do you have sufficient funds for the entire stay in Europe?
  • Do you have family or friends in the Schengen Zone who can help you in a tough situation?

You will receive the final decision via email within the next 20 working days.

Do not forget that this is a processing time for the application for a short-term Schengen visa. If you apply for a long-term stay visa, it may take up to 60 days. Consider that before you submit your application.

Schengen visa refusal

In most cases, granting a C-type Schengen visa is an easy and fast process but sometimes the consular officer takes a rejection decision. If you think that this decision is unjust or a mistake, you have the option of submitting a request for a reconsideration of the application. In such a case, your Schengen visa application will be processed one more time and you will be informed about the final decision within the next 2 months. If after 60 days from submitting your request for a re-evaluation of the application, you do not receive the answer, it means that your application is irrevocably rejected.

Of course, you can apply for a visa one more time. In order to do it correctly, know the reasons why your application was rejected and correct errors. Once you apply again, you will have to go through all process one more time and pay the fees again.

Long-stay Schengen visas (D-type)

A D-type national visa permits a traveller to enter the territory of the chosen country and stay there more than 90 days during the period of validity of the visa. The first long-stay visa is valid normally for up to 12 months and you can enter the country - the issuer of the visa once or more than one time. 

A D-type national visa also authorizes its holder to travel to other Schengen Area Member States for a maximum of 90 days during a 180-day period, during the validity period of the visa (exactly as the Schengen short-stay visa).

Required documents when applying for a D-type visa are:

  • Valid passport issued within the last 10 years
  • Passport-style photograph satisfying the standards
  • Certificate of medical travel insurance covering a minimum EUR 30,000 of medical costs and covering all expenses that may arise in connection with the need to return for medical reasons, a medical emergency, urgent hospitalization or death, or medical insurance
  • Proof of visa fee payment
  • An application form and a cover letter explaining the purpose of travel and conditions of stay
  • Document confirming statements above
  • Documents proving possession of enough funds to cover the costs of living during the planned stay and to cover the costs of return to the country of origin or residence, or to cover the costs of transit to a third country or documents confirming that the applicant can legally obtain such funds
  • Other documents that confirm other circumstances claimed to in the visa application (ex. an enrollment certificate allowing attendance of courses, local citizen marriage certificate, a medical attestation from the hospital or doctor in the selected country confirming the date of your surgery and describing your medical situation and others)

The applicant can be asked about some other documents and these documents may be different as every Schengen Zone member-country has its own long-stay visa policy.

You must be aware that a D-type visa is not a work permit. You can reside in Schengen but you mustn’t get any paid job. If you want to work in any Schengen country, you should apply for a work permit in this state. In most states, the applicant must do it in person, not later than on the last day of legal stay in the given country. For more details contact the local authorities in the country you want to live and work in.

Work permit in the Schengen Zone

Every state pursues a separate policy of granting a work permit to the third countries nationals. Every time, you have to contact the embassy (if you are outside of the selected country) or the local authorities (if you are already residing in the chosen country) to know which documents you are obliged to submit. Usually, there is the same basic set of documents and some additional depending on the local law. Usually, the process of granting the work permit runs according to the scheme:

Step 1: Your employer must have advertised the job in the selected country and the EU/EEA and Switzerland for at least 10 days before the offer of employment was made.

Step 2: You must submit documents proving that salary and insurance requirements have been met for each month you have held a work permit.

Your European employer must be involved in all the process. This is the company that wants to hire you who initiates the work permit application for you. Your employer sends information about your name, date of birth, citizenship, education, and your email address to the local authorities or migration agency. In some countries (eg. Sweden) all the process can be run online, but in others no. Usually, the needed documents must be translated to the national language of the country you intend to work in.

Crossing the Schengen Zone’s border

Even if you have already got your visa, you need to meet some other requirements to enter the Schengen Area. Once you arrive by land, sea or air, you must present at the port-of-entry immigration point some documents and talk with an immigration officer. Present them:

  • your valid passport (its expiration date must be later than 3 months after your planned exit from Europe)
  • your valid visa
  • A document confirming that you have sufficient funds for the entire stay in Sweden
  • a ticket back from Schengen Zone country

The immigration officer will probably ask you some questions as a formality. They can be:

  • What is the purpose of your visit?
  • How long are you planning to stay in the country which border you cross?
  • Where are you going to stay in this country? (prepare the address of the hotel or your family member or friend who will host your)

If your passport and visa are good and the immigration officer does not identify the obstacles, you will be permitted to enter. At that moment make sure that the national border officer gives you a stamp on the passport. This is crucial! Without a stamp, you could have problems with leaving the Schengen Area and being accused of illegal stay in Europe.

How to extend the short-stay visa being already in the Schengen Zone?

As a general rule, you must leave the Schengen Zone no later than the last day of the validity of your visa. But what if you really must stay longer in the European Union? Will you be deported or punished? Not necessarily, if you demonstrate that you have really important reasons to overstay.

Under certain circumstances, you can prolong your stay in the Schengen Zone, but you must have a very important reason. If you believe you do, you may try to extend your Schengen visa. 

What are the acceptable reasons to stay more than 90 days in the Schengen Zone or exceed the maximum time within the 180 days? There could be:

  • Late entry

Applicable only for a single-entry short-stay visa. If you have entered Schengen after your visa became valid, you can apply for a visa extension for exactly the same period that you “were late”.

  • Humanitarian reasons

If you need to stay in the Schengen Area to continue receiving medical treatment, to take part in the funeral after the sudden death of a family member, to give support to a person close to you who is going through some kind of hardship, etc. - there are “humanitarian reasons” and could be enough to grant you a visa extension.

  • Force majeure

“Force majeure” is strictly defined as an unexpected situation that has occurred all of the sudden in your home country. It applies to war, or even violent protests across the country, extreme weather conditions, no flight connections because of a natural disaster.

  • Important personal reasons

This definition is a bit larger and it might be an unplanned wedding (yours or of your family member), unfinished business or other situation you consider as very important and claim as unplanned. Every time the final decision, whether this is or not an “important personal reason” is taken by the consular officer.

If you decide to apply for the extension of your stay, this is your responsibility to prove and confirm information about new facts and special reasons that arise after entry into the Schengen Area.

The Schengen visa policy is very clear in this case and the list of acceptable reasons to extend a Schengen short-stay visa is short and closed. Immigration officers reject many applications for extension of stay and there is no possibility of submitting a request for a reconsideration of the application. Their decision is final and this is a refusal - you must leave the Schengen Zone at least the last day of the validity of your short-stay visa or passage of limit of 90 days within the 180-days period.