The Schengen Accord
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The "Schengen Agreement" (formally known as the Schengen Accord) is a treaty between many European countries that allows exchange of law enforcement data between their agencies via a centralized database. The treaty is not restricted to European Union countries only, so non-EU countries (such as Norway and Iceland) also are part of the zone.
A visitor who qualifies for a Schengen visa may travel throughout all countries that are signatories to the Accord. Switzerland and Cyprus are likely to become signatories in the very near future.
Please Note: Some EU countries - such as the United Kingdom and Ireland - are NOT part of the Schengen Zone, so a Schengen visa will NOT allow entry into those countries! Romania and Bulgaria might qualify within "several years," but these newest EU States are currently struggling to comply with the requirements to qualify for inclusion into the Schengen Zone.
Countries in the Schengen area include: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. In December 2007, the following countries were added: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Visitors to these countries who need a visa should consider a Schengen visa when traveling, especially for business purposes.
Entry into and travel throughout Europe with a Schengen Visa
It is important to note that the (standard) maximum allowable stay in Schengen countries is 90 days for all member countries within any six-month period. This means that, for example, if a business visitor with a Schengen visa enters Germany on 01 April and stays for 30 days (until 30 April), they may only spend up to 60 more days (for a total of 90) in all Schengen countries before 01 October, including re-entry to Germany. In exceptional cases visas can also be issued for periods of one or two years.
Schengen visas should be obtained from the consulate of the member country where a visitor plans entry into the Schengen zone and is likely to spend most of his or her time.
A multiple-entry Schengen visa allows you to enter into the country which issues you the visa, and you may then travel freely throughout all Schengen countries. It is assumed that you will spend most of your time in the country which issued the visa to you, but it is not a requirement. Some countries are much easier to obtain a Schengen from, in practice, although the process is supposed to be standardized.
It is therefore possible, for another example, to obtain a Schengen visa via the Italian or Spanish consluates, enter that country, and then immediately travel to France and spend most of your time there. However, countries which notice this practice may in the future deny a Schengen application to people they feel are a risk of abusing the intent of Schengen visas.
In the example just described, Sweden or Hungary would have the right to deny an application if they wish to, while other countries such as Denmark or the Czech Republic retain the right to grant permission, if they wish. Each signatory to the Schengen Accord may decide to grant or deny an application to a person based upon that individual's historical record of behavior and travel in any other member country. So, it is generally advisable to avoid this practice as much as possible to avoid unnecessary inconvenience.
In December 2007 the Schengen Zone was significantly expanded to include many new EU countries. There are also plans to expand by several more countries in the near future. This news item includes some related Schengen information that will likely be of interest: