How to Apply For a Schengen Visa

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

It has been a few decades since the Schengen Borders Agreement of the European Union opened the doors to tourists who really wish to enjoy freedom when traveling between 26 countries. For some lucky passport holders, a Schengen visa means that they can enter one of the countries in the agreement without having to apply for a visa beforehand, and they can move freely from one country to another as long as their entry permit is still valid.

Tourists who hold United States passports do not have to apply for a Schengen visa if their travel plans consist of staying in the participating countries for 90 days or less. The way it works is as follows:

A tourist with a valid U.S. passport enters one of the following nations:

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

Once the U.S. passport has been stamped, the clock starts running on the 90 days visa period. Within those three months, the traveler can move freely between the countries above. The tourist can also travel to one of the countries while in transit to another one. Border crossings should be made during regular business hours, and they may or may not entail stamping the passport.

The visa expires at the 90-day mark or when the tourist exits the Schengen area, at which point the traveler will have to wait six months until he or she can re-enter without having to make a formal application. U.S. passport holders who intend to visit a Schengen nation for more than 90 days must apply for a visa at the consulate of the countries they intend to visit,

If, for example, a U.S. passport holder from New York wishes to vacation in Barcelona for one month and later spend four months hiking the French Alps, she should visit the consulates of Spain and France and apply for tourist visas therein.

Schengen visa extensions may be granted for personal or business reasons, but they are not likely to be granted solely for the purpose of tourism. Schengen visa extensions may require registration with the local police departments and immigration bureaus. Should an extension be granted, the passport will be stamped and the period will not exceed 90 days; however, tourists will be able to travel within the Schengen area once again.

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