Difference Between EU and Schengen Area

What Is the Difference Between the EU and the Schengen Area?

Visitors to Spain should be aware that they are entering both the European Union and the Schengen Area. Not all members of the EU are included in the Schengen agreement and this could affect the type of visa needed to visit any of these territories.

There is often confusion between the European Union (EU) and the Schengen Area. Both concepts involve European countries, but there are some big differences between the 2 terms.

This article will clear up any doubts you may have.

What Is the European Union (EU)?

The European Union is a group of countries in Europe who are united both politically and economically. These 28 member states cooperate on matters such as:

  • Trade agreements (acting as a single market)
  • Human rights
  • Policies on sustainable fishing and agriculture

Each country in the EU votes for representatives in the European Parliament. While the legislation of each member state is still decided by the country’s own government, certain rules are set down in EU law, which all members must comply with.

The EU developed from previous European organizations, going back to the period immediately after the Second World War.

Powerful western European nations had been at war on and off for centuries, with millions of lives lost as a result. The rise of extreme nationalism had left the continent devastated during World War II. Recognizing this, European leaders founded the Council of Europe in 1949 to bring the nations of Europe together.

Later, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany created the European Coal and Steel Community, believing that by forcing old enemies like France and Germany to rely on each other for industry, it would make war both undesirable but practically impossible. This laid the foundations for the EU.

The next step was the creation of a customs union, known as the European Economic Communities in 1957. More nations, including the UK, Ireland, and Denmark joined in 1973, with Spain becoming a member in 1986. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty formally established the European Union as it is today.

What Is the Schengen Area?

Unlike the EU, the Schengen Area is not a political entity. It is the largest free movement area in the world, established to make it easier to move between European countries.

There are usually no border checks between Schengen countries and they share a common visa policy.

The Schengen Agreement was originally signed between Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in 1985 in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg. In 1990, the Schengen Convention implemented this agreement, gradually abolishing border checks between the countries.

In 1995, the Schengen Area was officially created. Over time, more countries signed the Schengen Agreement ‘thus becoming part of the Schengen Area.

Are all EU countries in Schengen?

In 1997, the Schengen Agreement was introduced into EU law, with opt-outs for certain members. Most EU member states are now also members of the Schengen Area.

The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are EU members who opted out of joining the Schengen Area. Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus are also EU members who plan to become Schengen countries but are not at present.

Four non-EU states form part of the Schengen Area:

  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway
  • Switzerland

What is the difference between Schengen countries and EU countries?

There are 28 members of the EU and 26 Schengen countries:

BulgariaYesExpected to join
CroatiaYesExpected to join
Republic of CyprusYesExpected to join
Czech RepublicYesYes
IrelandYesOpted out
The NetherlandsYesYes
RomaniaYesExpected to join
The UKYesOpted Out

Other states you can visit with a Schengen visa

Although not technically part of the Schengen Area, the microstates of Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City have open borders with the Schengen countries that surround them, making them accessible to travelers with Schengen visas (although these countries cannot issue the visas themselves).

Andorra is also accessible from Spain with a Schengen visa, but a multiple-entry visa will be required to re-enter Spain or France as Andorra is considered outside the Schengen Area.

Outside of Europe

The EU also includes certain parts of its member states that exist outside of the continent of Europe, including the Canary Islands (Spain), found off the coast of Africa, and French Guiana (France), found in South America. These “Outermost Regions” use the Euro for currency, but may be exempt from certain EU laws.

The Schengen Area includes the Atlantic islands belonging to Spain and Portugal, such as the Canaries and Madeira.

However, most overseas regions and territories are not part of the Schengen Area. For example, French Guiana, Guadeloupe (France), Curaçao (Netherlands), and Greenland (Denmark) are not included.

Which Visa Do I Need?

The visa required depends on which countries you are planning to visit.

Travelers going to Spain can do so with a Schengen Visa (unless they are planning to work or study there — learn more about different types of visas for Spain.).

The Schengen Visa not only allows travelers to enter Spain but all other countries in the Schengen Area. This includes the 4 non-EU countries listed above.

However, it does not allow entry to the UK or Ireland. It also currently cannot be used to enter Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, or Cyprus, although this is likely to change in the near future. If you plan to travel to these countries, you must acquire the appropriate documentation for each.

There are also plans to introduce a visa waiver for the Schengen Area called the ETIAS Visa Waiver. Planned to begin at the end of 2022, this will make entering Spain easier for travelers of many nationalities.

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