Free movement of people within the Schengen Area


The Schengen Convention is an agreement among some European states which allows for the abolition of systematic border controls between the participating countries. It also includes provisions on common policy on the temporary entry of people (including the Schengen Visa), the harmonisation of external border controls, and cross-border police and judicial co-operation. The name of the Convention comes from the name of the village Schengen in Luxembourg where the Agreement was signed in 1985.

A total of 26 states have implemented the agreement so far. Border posts and checks have been removed between Schengen area states and a common Schengen visa (see below) allows tourist or visitor access to the area.

The initial 15 states that implemented the agreement are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia implemented it on 21 December 2007 for land and sea borders and in March 2008 for air borders. Switzerland implemented the agreement for land borders on 12 December 2008 and for air borders in March 2009. Liechtenstein implemented the agreement fully on 19 December 2011. Bulgaria and Romania are in the process of implementing it.

Ireland and the UK have applied to take part only in the police and criminal judicial co-operation measures and not the common border control and visa provisions.

The Schengen arrangements deal with travel between the participating states. They do not affect the rights of people to live and work in other countries. This is covered by EU directives and regulations on free movement of people.


The Schengen countries have implemented the following arrangements:

  • They have common rules about entry and short stay visas
  • They have removed checks at their common borders and have checks only at the external borders; there are separate arrangements at airports for people travelling within the Schengen area.
  • They have arrangements for co-ordination between the police, customs and the judiciary in the Schengen area states and for taking measures to combat terrorism and organised crime; this can include rights of hot pursuit

Free movement of people

The Schengen Convention allows people who are legally present in one of the participating countries to travel to any of the other participating countries without having any border checks when crossing internal frontiers.

Internal frontiers are defined as the national boundaries between the countries taking part in the Schengen Convention, together with airports and seaports in the case of traffic to and from a Schengen country. Travellers may cross the internal frontiers wherever and whenever they like without having to undergo personal checks. However, anyone who enters or leaves the Schengen zone is subject to the normal checks.

This does not mean that you can travel without identity documents. Many of the countries concerned require their own citizens as well as others to carry some form of ID. You may need a passport or other form of ID to establish your entitlement to travel freely.

If you are legally in one participating country and you travel into another you may move around for 3 months without any checks. After that, your right to remain in the other country is subject to the rules in respect of taking up residence in another country.

Asylum seekers in one participating country are not entitled to travel freely to another. They are subject to the rules set out in the Dublin III Regulation on the country to which their application for asylum must be made.

Schengen Borders Code: Regulation (EC) No 562/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 established a Community Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders.

Schengen visas

A Schengen visa is a visa issued by one of the participating countries to third country nationals. If you have a visa to travel to one Schengen country, you do not need a further visa to travel to the others. If you have a valid residence permit in one Schengen country you can travel to the others without needing a visa (in effect, a residence permit from a Schengen country is the same as a Schengen visa).

Schengen Information System

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a database set up to facilitate the exchange of data on people's identities and descriptions of objects that were either stolen or lost. It is available to the authorities in the participating countries. It is accessible by them only to the extent that they take part in the Schengen arrangements.

A new system SIS II has been developed and entered into operation on 9 April 2013. Ireland has agreed to opt in to the SIS II system.


Frontex is the EU Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States. It is based in Warsaw and was set up to co-ordinate the activities of member states in the field of border security. Responsibility for the control and surveillance of external borders lies with the member states. Frontex was established by Regulation (EC) 2007/2004. Ireland and the UK are not involved.

Legal status of Schengen

The original Schengen Convention (agreed in 1985) was an international agreement between the countries who agreed to be bound by it. A further convention was agreed in 1990. The Convention came into effect in 1995. In 1998, the conventions became part of EU law when the Treaty of Amsterdam came into effect.

Ireland and Schengen

Ireland is not part of the Schengen arrangements on travel and visas. It is open to Ireland to take part in these arrangements if all of the Schengen members and a representative of the Irish government vote unanimously in favour within the Council of the EU. This means that Irish people are subject to passport checks at the borders of other EU member states.

The External Borders Fund

The External Borders Fund aims to help with the creation of an efficient, high and uniform level of control at the external borders. Ireland is not involved.

The Prüm Treaty

The Prüm Treaty is sometimes referred to as Schengen Plus. It was signed on 27 May 2005 by 7 countries - France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg. They agreed to increase their co-operation in order fight against terrorism, cross border crime and illegal migration. The agreement allows for the exchange of data on finger prints and genetic information. The agreement is open to other Schengen member states. This is an international agreement between the countries concerned. It has no connection at present with EU law.

Page edited: 18 December 2014