The Schengen area is a group of 26 countries which have abolished internal border and passport controls, making movement between them very easy. They operate a single visa policy, so whether your travel is business or purely backpacking pleasure, once you have a Schengen visa, most of western Europe is accessible.
A visa for entry to a Schengen country will be required for most people who are not citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland. There are 26 participating countries including 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 and Switzerland. Notable exceptions to the Schengen area include the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Types of visa
There are three types of visa: single entry, multiple entry and transit. A single entry visa will only let you enter the Schengen area once, although you are free to travel between the countries as much as you like as long as you don't leave the area. A multiple entry visa will enable you to leave the Schengen area (for example, to visit the UK) and return to it again as long as the visa has not expired. Both of these visas last for three months. The final form is a transit visa which will allow you to travel through the Schengen area for a maximum of 5 days (or just through the airport if you apply for an airport transit visa).
Where to apply
If you want to visit one country only, you must apply to the embassy or consulate of that country. If you intend to travel around, apply to the embassy of the country which is to be your main destination. If you have no main destination, you must apply to the country which is to be your intended entry point.
How to apply
The requirements for entry will vary slightly from country to country but basically you will need to complete an application form, which should be available to download from the embassy or consulate website or obtained over the phone by mail or fax. The questions are the same but the fee may vary depending on which country you apply to. You will need to show your passport or travel document (which must have six months left unexpired at the end of your trip) and a recent photograph. Evidence that you can support yourself is necessary and bank statements or credit card statements showing the limit can be produced in support. A fee will be payable, which will usually not be refunded even if the visa is refused. Lastly, most countries will need evidence of medical insurance covering the duration of your trip.
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