How does border control in the Schengen Area work?

schengen border control

The EU’s Schengen zone is well known for permitting visa-free travel across many different European nations. However, despite the free-travel area comprising 26 countries, there are still border controls to the Schengen Area itself.

Entering and exiting the Schengen zone is carefully monitored by European authorities and Canadians visiting Europe should be mindful of how Europe’s borders work. Especially as the EU is set to roll-out the new ETIAS visa waiver in 2022, which Canadians will need to hold prior to arrival.

This article explains how border controls work in the Schengen area. It details the necessary documentation Canadian travellers will need to visit the EU’s free-movement bloc, what to expect at the borders of Schengen, as well as who enforces the frontiers of Europe.

What documents will travellers need to cross the borders of Schengen?

At present Canadians can visit Europe for tourism or business purposes with just their passport. On arrival in Schengen, they will be able to stay for up to 3 months in the bloc and can visit any of the 26 nations during this time.

However, ETIAS is set to launch in 2022 which will change the requirements for Canadian travellers slightly.

When it launches this new electronic authorisation (which is not a visa) will be obligatory for visitors from visa-free countries such as Canada and the United States. This is to improve the security and integrity of Schengen’s borders by prescreening passengers before arrival. It will also make crossing the border easier thanks to streamlined document check processes.

Yet, the process of registering for ETIAS will not be complicated. Visitors will simply need to complete the online application form up to a few days before their arrival in Europe. This will only take around 10 minutes to complete in most cases.

The visa waiver will then be emailed to the applicant and will be electronically linked to their registered passport. It will be valid for multiple short trips to Europe over a period of 3 years or until the holder’s passport expires (whichever occurs first).

Longer-term stays in Europe will require a Schengen visa. In order to obtain this document travellers must visit the local embassy or consulate of the country they will be residing in.

What must travellers do when crossing the Schengen border?

Crossing the borders of Schengen is a straightforward and easy process.

On arrival at a European destination, travellers will need to join the immigration queue and present their passport and other relevant travel documents such as visas or ETIAS visa waivers to the border authorities.

If the border guard is satisfied with the documents, they will then stamp the traveller’s passport with an entry stamp. The visitor will then be able to travel freely in the Schengen Area.

However, like any border crossing, there are special rules that visitors must follow. Europe prohibits a number of items from being carried into the Schengen Area, these include:

  • Weapons of any kind
  • Endangered species of animals or plants
  • Dangerous chemicals
  • Pirated or counterfeit items
  • Explosives
  • Animal-based products from outside the EU

None of the above items must be brought into the Schengen Area by tourists from Canada. If the border guards find or suspect a visitor of carrying any of these items the traveller could be checked. If caught carrying this contraband they could be prosecuted or denied entry through the EU’s borders.

Travelling within the Schengen Area

Once a Canadian tourist has entered a Schengen country they can travel to any of the 26 member states without needing any further immigration checks. They will only have their passport checked again if they travel outside the Schengen zone and re-enter for any reason.

For example, if a visitor from Canada flies from Montreal to Paris, they will then be able to visit other countries such as Germany, Spain and Italy on the same trip without having to have their documents checked again.

This only applies to Schengen member states, however. Some other European countries such as Turkey, the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus or Russia are not covered by the same immigration rules and visitors will need their passport and possibly a visa to enter.

Canadians are permitted to spend 90 days out of every 180 days in the free-movement area for tourism or business purposes. If they briefly leave Schengen for a few days and re-enter, the total time spent in the Area will count toward their permitted 90 days.

Tourists must keep their passport and any visas or visa waiver documents with them at all times. This is in case they need to provide proof of legal entry and their right to be in the Schengen Area.

Visiting Europe is a must for many Canadians and fortunately, it is very easy to do so. Provided that travellers adhere to all the border control measures when arriving they can enjoy a safe and enjoyable stay in one or multiple Schengen countries.