The Schengen Agreement, signed by 25 European nations, allows tourists to travel between the internal borders of these countries for 90 days within a six-month period by obtaining only one visa. American citizens touring or conducting business are exempted from obtaining a Schengen visa, but are still limited to 90 days within six months. Your Schengen visa or visa-exemption allows you to visit any or all of the Schengen countries, which include most European Union member states as well as three non-members.
The Schengen zone includes all European Union member countries except the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria. Non-EU members who are a party to the Schengen agreement include Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. If you are an American citizen traveling to the Schengen zone for reasons other than business or tourism, check with the embassy of the country you are entering to see if you need a visa. Schengen visas are always processed by your first port of entry into the zone.
Entry and Exit Requirements
Upon your first entry port in the Schengen zone, show your American passport or your Schengen visa in a foreign passport and request a stamp to prove the date of your entry. You will not have to present your passport at subsequent border crossings within the Schengen area, but when you leave the zone, you will need a departure stamp. You are allowed unlimited entries and exits to the zone until your 90-day or six-month time limit is up, whichever comes first.
European Union Members Not in the Schengen Zone
U.S. citizens are not required to obtain tourist visas for stays in any European Union country not party to the Schengen Agreement. As of the time of publishing, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Ireland all allow U.S. citizens a total of 90 days of visa-free travel for tourism or business within one visit. The United Kingdom allows Americans to stay for up to six months without a visa, provided you do not work or conduct business. Consult the UK Border Agency (ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk) for details about what activities require American nationals to obtain a visa.
Whether applying for a visa to the Schengen zone or traveling to the area without one, you are required to show that your passport’s validity extends three months beyond your intended stay. For example, if you are staying in the zone for four weeks, your passport must be valid for at least 16 weeks. Prepare yourself with airline reservations to prove your length of stay if you are asked by border officials.