Do Americans need a travel visa to visit Europe? What is the Schengen Area?

Due to agreements between the United States government and the European Union, American citizens are not required to obtain a tourist visa for entry into any of the EU member states. Requirements for entry with a United States passport will be outlined further below.

In order to foster an open European economic environment, 22 of the European Union’s 28 member states have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders. This allows persons to move freely and without restriction between the countries in the Schengen area.

Four non-EU countries are also a part of the Schengen agreements.  Lichtenstein, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have all been admitted into the Schengen area. Thus, a person entering Germany from the United States will be able to drive through France and into Spain without once encountering passport control or customs. The full list of Schengen countries is below:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Three European micro states — Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican — can be considered de facto members of the Schengen area because they do not enforce border controls with the countries which surround them completely.

As a condition of their membership in the European Union, the countries of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are obliged to enter the Schengen area within the coming years.  This will occur once their outer borders have been secured and their passport control systems and policies aligned with the EU requirements.

Ireland and the United Kingdom have received permanent exemptions from membership in the Schengen area. Because the United Kingdom has voted to terminate its membership in the European Union, it remains unclear how the travel privileges of Europeans will be affected, but U.S. travelers should face no changes in the way they enter the U.K., which is described below. For now, the U.K. remains a “non-Schengen European Union member country.”

United States passport holders attempting to enter into the Schengen area must have:

  1. A valid passport with at least three months validity beyond the planned departure date from the Schengen area.
  2. Two blank passport visa pages for entry/exit stamps.
  3. Documents showing a travel itinerary (i.e.: airfare receipt showing entry to/from the EU) and proof of a confirmed hotel reservation.

Travelers seeking entry into a non-Schengen European Union member country must have a passport valid for at least six months at the time of entry. Two blank passport pages and a travel itinerary are also required.

As a result of the U.S. agreement with the E.U., American passport holders may stay in the EU for up to 90 days in any 180 day period. This 90 days can be broken up into multiple visits or taken all at once. Persons wishing to remain for more than 90 days must file for a residence permit with one of the EU member nations. Information and requirements for residence permits is available from each country’s Embassy or Consulate.

When moving between Schengen and non-Schengen EU countries, travelers will be required to pass through passport control and customs.

The Schengen Agreement makes travel within continental Europe much easier, as trains are not required to stop when crossing national borders within the Schengen area. The same is true for travelers moving by air or car. Moving about within the Schengen area is no different that traveling domestically within the United States.

Additional information is available via the following links:

Future ETIAS requirement: Beginning in May 2023, US citizens traveling to EU and Schengen Area countries will soon have to comply with a new entry requirement. The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is an upcoming online visa waiver system which will require U.S. travelers to apply in advance for a visa waiver, beginning with arrivals to the European Union and Schengen Area in May 2023.