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Wednesday, 28 January, 1998, 11:43 GMT
A traveller's guide to Schengen
Countries already within the Schengen agreement:

France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal and Italy.

  • Austria joins on December 1 1997.

  • A decision will be taken on Greece in the second half of 1998.

  • Denmark, Sweden and Finland will gain full entry in 1999.

  • Iceland and Norway will have associate status as non-members of the EU. This will allow them to maintain the Nordic Passport Union.

    Despite the relaxation of internal border controls, proof of identity is still needed for all travellers to the Schengen area. Schengen nationals, and nationals of EU member states, need a European Identity Card (or valid passport).

    For nationals from outside the Schengen area, as well as nationals from non-EU member states, a visa or residence permit may also be needed for travel within individual Schengen countries. (See advice below.)

    External borders
    Passport and visa requirements continue to apply at the external Schengen borders for non-EU member nationals. Member nationals and nationals from EU countries have separate entry channels and do not need to show a passport but should carry a European Identity Card. It is nonetheless advisable to take a passport as well, even if it does not have to be shown.

    Internal borders (land, sea and airport frontiers)
    For individual travellers Schengen has little impact on internal borders other than meaning they do not have to show a passport. But this does not mean that travelling in the Schengen area is the same as travelling within one country. Each has its relevant laws and these continue to apply.

    There will also be some restrictions on entry without a visa for the nationals of some non-EU member states and in some Schengen countries. The issue of visas is still confusing and travellers are advised to check with a travel agent before setting off.

    At the airport
    At airports, different procedures apply to passengers travelling between Schengen countries (Schengen passengers) and other passengers, regardless of nationality. Schengen passengers need not show their passports, though their luggage may be checked. Practically all airports within the Schengen area introduced separate Schengen and non-Schengen facilities on 26 March 1995.

    There has been confusion and disagreement over the need for visas for entry into, and travel within, Schengen for nationals of non-EU Member States. As a result, the Schengen countries agreed to work towards harmonisation of their visa arrangements. At the moment, the Schengen countries have more or less completely harmonised their visa policies. They have agreed to issue visas under the same conditions, taking account of each other's interests. As a result, a visa issued by one Schengen country is also valid for the others. This will benefit foreign nationals wishing to visit more than one Schengen country.

    The best advice for nationals of non-EU member states wanting to travel into the Schengen area is to check visa requirements with a travel agent, making sure to state all the countries they intend to visit.

    Time limits
    Nationals from Schengen member countries can travel indefinitely within the area in the same way as nationals from EU member states can through the EU.

    Whether they need a visa or not, nationals of non-EU countries may only travel freely in the Schengen area for a maximum of three months. Where this period used to vary from country to country, it now applies throughout the Schengen area

    For longer periods of time, a visa or residence permit is required. The individual member countries set their own time restrictions and these therefore need to be checked before travelling.

    Co-operation between embassies
    The embassies of the Schengen countries work closely together in implementing visa policy. Regulations have, for example, been drawn up specifying which embassy should process visa applications submitted by individuals wishing to visit more than one Schengen country. The Schengen countries do not necessarily have diplomatic missions (consulates or embassies) in every country. In such cases, they may issue visas for each other. Honorary consuls may no longer issue visas. In practice, this will have few repercussions, since, in most countries, there is at least one Schengen country with a professional diplomatic mission.

    Law and order
    One of the measures taken to compensate for the abolition of internal border checks is closer cooperation between the police and criminal justice authorities of the Schengen countries. The police, for example, have agreed to provide each other with information, both on their own initiative and on request. Agreement has also been reached on the observation and pursuit of suspects on each other's territory. The German police, for example, may pursue suspects for a distance of ten kilometres into Dutch territory, after which the Dutch police can, if necessary, take over. Police forces on either side of the border maintain close contact to ensure such operations run smoothly.

    It has been agreed that each Schengen country may pursue its own policies on drugs, provided account is taken of the impact these may have on the other countries. Efforts are also being made to step up the war on international drug trafficking. To this end, the Schengen countries have seconded liaison officers to each other's embassies.

    Schengen has also simplified extradition procedures, supplementing existing agreements reached at Benelux and European Union level. It also makes it possible for people convicted in one country to serve their sentences in another. Because Schengen contains provisions on mutual legal assistance, international crime can be tackled more effectively.

    The Schengen Information System (SIS)
    Since checks have been abolished at the common borders, extra measures must be taken by way of compensation. The Schengen Information System, a kind of European database, plays a crucial role. The SIS is used by the authorities responsible for conducting checks at the external borders, internal police and customs controls, issuing residence permits, applying legislation on immigrants, and issuing visas. The SIS is a computerised list of descriptions of the persons and objects wanted by or missing in each Schengen country, and it can be accessed in every country at all times. It comprises separate sections for each country, and a central technical support unit, which is managed by France and located in Strasbourg. The system has been set up in such a way that it can be expanded once Schengen becomes operational in more countries.

    The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has introduced a computerised system for the issue of visas by consulates and embassies. The parts of the SIS which are of relevance to the embassies are regularly updated. The embassies and consulates have a direct on- line link with the Netherlands, so that they have the most up-to-date information at their disposal.

  • Links to more Schengen stories are at the foot of the page.

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