Schengen Visa
Seven countries in Europe signed a treaty in June 1985 to end internal border checkpoints and controls. More countries have joined the treaty since then. There are currently 25 Schengen countries and all of them are in Europe.

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland are all Schengen countries. Norway and Iceland are not members of the European Union. United Kingdom and Ireland are members of the European Union, but do not belong to the Schengen area.

The Schengen visa allows the holder to a total stay of up to 90 days within a period of 6 months for tourist or business purposes. If you get a multiple entry Schengen visa, you may leave and return any number of times within the 180-day period, but the combined stay within the region must not total more than 90 days. You need to apply for a Schengen visa if you are a citizen of a country whose citizens are subject to the visa requirement. A Schengen visa must be applied in person, NOT by mail.

Once you get a Schengen visa, you can enter one country and travel freely anywhere within the Schengen territory. Internal border controls have been abolished and there are no or few stops and checks. Internal air, road and train travel are handled as domestic trips, just like traveling from one state in the U.S. to another. Traveling within Europe has been simplified with the Schengen visa as the unified visa system offers many advantages. The Schengen Agreement still allows customs control as long as there is no passport check, and checks are made randomly, or at real suspicions.

The Schengen visa helps promote a unified Europe and is an important symbol of the European Union.

It takes between 2 and 10 working days to get a Schengen visa for short-term stays. Processing time may be up to several months for long-term residence permits or visas for employment in a Schengen country.

A centralized database, common procedures and criteria for visa issuance and use of the same visa sticker with high-level built-in security helps optimize the office network of Schengen countries.

The Schengen visa does not guarantee entry into the Schengen countries as the final authorization remains with the immigration officials at the respective borders such as at the port of entry. The purpose of the visit may not be altered after entering the Schengen territory.

Other long term visas such as employment visas are subject to the national legislation of the country of destination.

U.S. citizens in possession of a valid U.S. passport do not need a visa for airport transit, tourist or business trips (for stays up to 90 days). The passport must not expire before the end of the scheduled trip.

Passport and Border Control
You will most likely be asked to show your passport when you visit different Schengen countries, to verify that you are still within the visa period. In addition to the passport containing the Schengen visa, you should also bring original letters, sponsorship papers and other documents used to get the visa to make the border control procedure easier and avoid delays at the border. You should not be the person for whom an alert has been issued for the purpose of refusing entry.

The nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA) must present a valid identity card or a valid or expired passport less than 5 years old. EEA consists of 25 Members of the European Union (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom) and Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

When a non-EEA traveler enters or transits into the Schengen area, a travel document (usually passport) will be stamped determining the starting point of the authorized stay. The same travel document is also stamped upon exiting the Schengen area. If the travel document of a third-country national does not have an entry stamp, authorities can presume that the holder does not fulfill or no longer fulfills the conditions of the duration of stay. However, if you can provide a credible evidence of your presence outside the territory of the Schengen countries, such presumption may be rebutted.

Visa types
An airport transit visa (A) allows you to transit through the international zone of a Schengen airport without entering the Schengen territory.

A transit visa (B) allows you to transit no more than 5 days through Schengen countries by car, coach or traveling through different airports on your way to another non-Schengen country.

A short stay visa (C) allows you to visit the Schengen countries for tourism, family or business visits, up to a maximum of 90 days in a given 180 days period.

A circulation visa (C) is a short stay visa valid at least a year: It is mainly issued for business visits that have an invitation letter from a Schengen country, to aircrew members, to people having a special interest in the Schengen territory.

A long stay visa (D) allows you to stay for more than 3 months, e.g., study, work, retire etc.