What is the difference between the EU and the Schengen zone?

The European Union was formed with the purpose of developing a single market through a standardised system of laws and regulations that could be applied equally in all member states.

What is the Schengen Area?

The first agreement reached on the Schengen Area was signed in 1958 and was called the Schengen Agreement after a small village in Luxembourg where the country’s borders meet those of Germany and France. This first agreement on the dissolution of internal borders was signed by 5 countries only (Luxembourg, Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.)

Today, the Schengen Area signifies, above all, freedom of movement within Europe. To ensure that this key goal is met, in normal conditions, Schengen member countries:

  • Don’t run border checks at their internal borders (i.e. borders between two Schengen states)
  • Run controls at their external borders (i.e. borders between a Schengen state and a non-Schengen state)
  • Allow both EU citizens and non-EU citizens to move within the Schengen area and are checked only when crossing the external border

Non-EU travellers still have to obtain a relevant form of travel authorisation to Europe in order to cross the external border and respect the European visa requirements and conditions.

Temporary internal borders and border checks may be reinstituted in extraordinary circumstances.

What is the EU?

The European Union (EU) is formed of the nations that signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 as well as those who have joined the Union over the subsequent years. EU members enjoy freedom of movement but also vote on and follow common laws and policies concerning health, climate, human rights, environment, and justice.

Which countries are in the Schengen zone?

26 countries are currently part of the Schengen Area, of which 22 are EU members. Here is the complete list of Schengen states:

Are all EU countries in Schengen?

Not all EU nations are Schengen member states. EU countries that are not part of the Schengen area include:

  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Ireland
  • Romania

While EU citizens are free to move within the EU (regardless of whether the country they are visiting is part of the Schengen zone or not) borders between one of the above countries and a Schengen state are considered an external border and are subject to border checks.

Are all Schengen countries EU members?

No, not all Schengen members are also part of the EU. Countries that are part of the Schengen area but have not signed up for the EU include:

  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Monaco
  • San Marino
  • Vatican City