In 1985, officials from five of the then ten European Economic Community (today’s European Union) signed an agreement to form the Schengen Zone in Schengen, Luxemburg. The agreement was designed to facilitate travel between member states by largely eliminating passport checks for citizens, residents, and tourists who were already within the borders of one of those countries.
With a new system in place, traveling for tourists not just within the Schengen Zone but also for citizens from outside of the European continent, like The US and Canada, became much easier. The question went from “Can Canadians travel to Spain, Germany, France, and Italy?” to “Can Canadians travel to Europe?”
The Schengen Zone Today
Since 1985, the Schengen Zone has ballooned from its original membership of five, to 26 member states.
It would be easy to think that every member of the European Union is also a member of the Schengen Zone. Similarly, it would be understandable to think that the inverse is also true and that every member of the Schengen Zone is also a member of the European Union. However, neither of those statements are true.
As the dynamics of the European Union have evolved following the need for post-WWII reconstruction, the relationships between the countries have had plenty of time to settle into a contemporary dynamic.
This is why there are many territories that have opted out of joining their neighbors as members of the Schengen Zone, as well as multiple countries who see the benefits of unrestricted European travel without endeavoring to become full members of the EU.
EU Schengen Members
A vast majority of the countries who are members of the European Union are members of the Schengen Zone. These are countries whose citizens and political leaders decided to opt into the idea of borderless travel for people who are already inside one of the member countries.
For example, a traveler who has been admitted to Spain will (typically) not be required to show their passport to border officials upon entering countries like France or Portugal because they are all members of the Schengen Zone. This is the case whether driving across the border, traveling by bus or train, or even flying from one country to the other.
The countries that fall under this category are:
Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.
Non-EU Schengen Members
There are certain countries inside of the continent of Europe that for whatever reason, have decided via a general referendum not to become a member of the European Union. The reasons for this may be cultural or financial or perhaps just overall skepticism of the benefits of being a member.
However, just because a country does not wish to align itself totally with its neighbors, does not mean they do not recognize the benefits of borderless travel that the Schengen Zone provides. In fact, if a traveler is looking for a holiday package to visit a number of European countries, they will be relieved to find out that they may not have to apply for a separate visa in order to do so.
The countries that are members of the Schengen Zone but are not members of the European Union are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
Note: Even though these four countries are not full-time members of the European Union, they still all have close economic and cultural ties to the EU, which helps facilitate regional cooperation.
Non-Schengen EU Members
In contrast to the previous section detailing the countries which are not members of the European Union but who are members of the Schengen Zone, there are also countries who are members of the EU but have opted out of the Schengen Zone.
There could be any number of reasons why a country would not want to become a member of the Schengen Zone. It may have to do with security or with who their neighboring countries are.
There are also certain markers that each country must meet in order to be allowed to become a member. It’s possible that one of these countries. It’s possible that one of these countries may eventually enter into the Schengen Zone, and travelers who hold a valid Schengen Visa will be able to visit them without having to pass through border control.
The Non-Schengen members who form a part of the European Union are Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus, and Ireland.
Note: Following a referendum in 2016, the United Kingdom voted to opt-out of the European Union. The UK was never a member of the Schengen Zone to begin with, but it is important to keep this fact in mind when traveling to Europe.