Schengen Visa: a full guide

Gabriela Peratello
19.10.21
8 minute read

The European Schengen Area lets citizens and residents — as well as travelers — move between any of 26 different countries without border checks¹.

Depending on your nationality and the length of your stay, you may need a visa to enter the Schengen visa countries. But once you’ve crossed the border into your first destination country, you’ll probably not need to show your paperwork again as you travel.

This guide covers Schengen visa requirements and eligibility, as well as the Schengen visa application forms you’ll need to understand.

📑 Table of Contents

And if you’re keen to try border free travel, we’ll also touch on how you could be better off with the Wise Multi-currency Account. Hold and manage all the currencies you need for your trip — with lower costs, and more convenience.

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What’s a Schengen visa?

The Schengen area makes life easier whether you’re living and working in Europe — or traveling and want to make more of your visit. Even if you need a visa to enter the Schengen area for the first time, you’ll only need to make one single application to travel to any of the 26 countries in the Schengen zone². Simple.

A Schengen visa is usually offered for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180 day period — although long-stay visas are also available for people who will work, live or study in the region. You can apply for your visa at the local consulate of whichever county you’ll visit — or the country you’ll spend the longest in if you have a multi-destination trip planned.

Your visa will be checked on entry to the Schengen area, and your immigration information shared between your country of entry and other Schengen countries, through several different large scale IT systems. This allows countries to keep their borders secure and maintain controls, without carrying out checks every time someone crosses an internal border within the Schengen states.

Want to learn more about the Schengen area and how it works? Get your full guide to the European Schengen zone and a rundown of Schengen area countries, here

Who is eligible for a Schengen visa?

If you’re a citizen of a country which does not have a visa waiver arrangement for the Schengen area you’ll need to apply for a Schengen visa. This is the case if you’re going to Europe for a short trip, and in some cases, even if you’re only transiting through the Schengen zone³.

US citizens do not usually need a Schengen visa. However, if you’re in the US as a Green Card holder, you’ll need to check whether you need a Schengen visa based on your nationality. The full list of countries which require a Schengen visa — and those which are exempted — is available on the EU website⁴.

Schengen visa types

There are several different types of Schengen visa, depending on your requirements. Most commonly you’ll be issued what’s known as a Uniform Schengen Visa (USV), which is either:

  • Schengen transit visa
  • Schengen short stay visa
  • Schengen long term visa

If you hold a transit visa this will only allow you to transit through a Schengen country, not enter it. A Shengen short stay visa may be issued for one time entry, double entry, or multiple entry, depending on your plans. This will usually be good for a stay of 90 days within a 180 day period. Finally, a Schengen long term visa is used for people entering the Schengen area to study or work, who will require a longer stay. This is a National Long Stay Visa, issued by the country you’ll reside in.

How does the Schengen visa work?

The Schengen protocols require all member states to use the same visa processes, including issuing the same types of visas, and running through the same security and border checks when someone enters the region from a third country.

In practice this means that you can apply for a Schengen visa from the country you’re planning to spend the most time in, and it will be checked when you first arrive in the Schengen zone. From that point, if you travel across borders to other Schengen states, you shouldn’t need to show your visa again. However, it’s important to know that not all countries in Europe are part of the Schengen zone. If you leave the region and only have a single entry Schengen visa, you won’t be allowed to re-enter the Schengen zone without getting a new visa prepared.

Where can you go with your Schengen visa?

schengen-area-map

You can currently get a Schengen visa from any of the 26 countries listed below:

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

Several other countries including Bulgaria and Croatia are working towards membership of the Schengen zone, and already implement some Schengen processes.

How to get a Schengen visa

Apply for your Schengen visa at the nearest consulate of the country you’re planning to visit⁵.

If you’re splitting your time between different countries, you’ll need to apply via the consulate of the country you intend to spend the most time in. And if your stay in the Schengen area will be equally split between different destinations, you’ll have to apply at the consulate of the first destination country.

Each consulate will have slightly different processes for application — so you’ll want to check the details before you get started. However, the basic steps and Schengen visa requirements are usually the same. Here’s an example of how you’d apply for a Schengen visa via the consulate of the Netherlands in the US⁶:


1. Complete and sign a Schengen visa application form

2. Submit this and your passport to your local embassy or visa service centre — this will often need to be done in person

3. You may need to visit an application centre to submit a passport photo and fingerprints

4. You could be invited for an interview

5. Your application will be checked and assessed — in some cases information is shared between Schengen states before a decision is made

6. You’ll be notified of whether or not your application was successful


To complete the Schengen visa application form you’ll need to provide information about your travel documents, dates of your trip, and who you’ll be visiting if relevant. You may be asked for proof of the reasons for your visit, or of your travel plans.

What documents are needed?

The exact documents you need to apply for a Schengen visa may vary depending on the type of trip, and how you’re processing your application. However, the requirements are broadly similar no matter why you plan to travel. Let’s look at example of the documents needed to apply for a Schengen visa through a Spanish consulate in the US⁷:

  • Completed Schengen visa application form
  • 1 passport photo
  • Passport valid for at least 3 months after your expected return to the US, plus your US visa or Green Card
  • Planned itinerary and proof of flights in and out of the Schengen area
  • Hotel reservations or a letter of invitation from an individual in Spain
  • Proof of employment
  • Bank statements showing you have sufficient funds to pay for your stay — the equivalent of 100 USD per day in the Schengen area
  • Health and travel insurance documents
  • Return mail envelope and a money order for the fee
Wondering how many EUR your USD will get? Check the handy conversion calculator below

What’s the processing time for the Schengen visa?

Check with the consulate you’re applying for, how long the processing time is likely to take. You must apply for your Schengen visa at least 15 days before you intend to travel, but not more than 6 months before the trip starts.

To give an example, applications lodged with a consulate or embassy of the Netherlands can be expected to take 15 days on average, but up to 45 days if additional documents or information is required.

Accelerated Schengen visa procedure

Family members of EU and EEA nationals may be entitled to an accelerated visa procedure, which is also free of charge. This applies if:

  • You’re a family member of an EU or EEA citizen
  • The EU or EEA citizen is living in or traveling to the country of their citizenship
  • You’re joining them or visiting them on your trip to the Schengen area

How much does it cost to get a Schengen visa?

Although the costs of applying for a Schengen visa are fairly standard, different consulates may have different payment requirements, and accept different currencies or payment methods. Check the details for the consular service you’ll be using before you apply.

Here are the costs for applications lodged through the embassy of the Netherlands in the US⁸:

Children under 6Free
Children aged 6 - 1140 EUR or 47 USD
Normal fee80 EUR or 94 USD
Discount fee35 EUR or 41 USD
Family members eligible for accelerated visa proceduresFree

If you’re applying through a visa centre you may also need to pay an extra charge to the visa centre for the service you receive there.

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Common questions about the Schengen visa

Let’s look at some common questions and answers about the Schengen visa and Schengen visa countries.

How long can you stay in Europe with a Schengen visa?

You’ll be able to stay in the Schengen area for as long as is stated on your visa. This is usually up to 90 days for a short stay tourist Schengen visa.

🔎 Schengen visas may come with a few different valid periods
    Transit visas only allow transit through the Schengen area rather than entry to the zone as a whole.
    Most short stay Schengen visas are valid for 90 days in any 180 day period.
    Long stay national visas issued for the Schengen area may be longer, and are designed for people who will live, study or work in the region.

What happens if you overstay?

If you overstay your Schengen visa you may be subject to a fine, deportation or a ban on future entry to the region.

Can you get a Schengen visa extension?

Most Schengen visas are issued for a short stay in the region only. If you want to stay longer you may need to apply for a different visa type, or leave and re-enter the zone with a new visa a little later.

If you need to extend your Schengen visa in an emergency situation you’ll have to talk to the authorities in the country which issued the visa in the first place. To give an example, if your Schengen visa was originally issued by the Netherlands, you’ll be required to show that your extension is due to unforeseen circumstances, such as illness or an emergency. You’ll have to provide evidence of the issue, prove you can pay for yourself and that you’re still covered by insurance, and that you intend to leave within the next 90 days. A fee will apply⁹.

What should you do if your visa gets rejected?

If your Schengen visa application is rejected, you’ll be informed of your options. You can usually appeal the decision at this stage, depending on the reason for the rejection.

When should you apply for a Schengen visa?

You must apply for your Schengen visa no more than 6 months from the expected date of travel, and no less than 15 days before you expect to leave. The embassy or consulate you’re applying to will be able to advise on Schengen visa processing time to allow you to plan more accurately.


The Schengen area is one of the world’s largest areas of free movement, allowing travelers to cover up to 26 countries with one visa. That can mean you’re able to do more and see more on a single trip, if you plan your trip to Schengen visa countries carefully.

Make the most of borderless travel with the Wise Multi-currency Account, to hold and spend all the currencies you need for your trip, conveniently, and for lower fees.


Sources:

  1. Europa - Schengen area
  2. Europa - Schengen borders and visa
  3. Europa - Who must apply for Schengen visa
  4. Europa - Visa lists
  5. Europa - Where and how to apply for Schengen visa
  6. Netherlands Worldwide - Applying for a short stay Schengen visa
  7. Spanish Government - Tourism Visa
  8. Netherlands Worldwide - Consular fees
  9. Netherlands Worldwide - Can I extend a Schengen visa in the Netherlands?

Sources checked on 10.18.2021


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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