Travel Story Understanding visas for Europe

Grindelwald, Switzerland. Picture: Gemma Nisbet
Photo of Stephen Scourfield

Confused by the Schengen Visa? Stephen Scourfield explains the in-and-outs when visiting Europe.

Reader Jane McAullay is planning a visit to Europe of more than 90 days and is concerned about the Schengen Visa.

This is a visa covering 26 European countries covered by the Schengen Convention. Visitors with Australian passports planning to stay for no more than 90 days in any combination of these countries do not need a visa.

But Jane says: “At this stage it looks that we will be more than 90 days in countries covered by the agreement. We plan on arriving in Germany and then leave from Greece (with the Balkans in between) and these are the two countries we will probably spend the most time in.”

The answer is that Australian tourists planning to spend more than 90 days within a 180 day period in the Schengen area must apply for a visa at an embassy or consulate of the Schengen country in which they intend to stay longest.

If you’re planning to stay for an equal length of time in more than one Schengen country, apply for a visa at the mission of the first Schengen country you will enter.

And please remember that it’s important to get your passport stamped when entering the Schengen area.

The Schengen Convention covers Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is specific in its advice about travel to the Schengen area:

“Australians seeking to enter European countries that are parties to the Schengen Convention are advised that only the country you plan to visit can provide up-to-date and accurate information about its specific visa requirements. We note entrance/exit procedures can change at short notice. Travellers should contact the nearest High Commission, Embassy or Consulate of the countries they plan to visit well in advance of travel.

“Generally, Australian tourists planning to spend less than a total of 90 days within a 180-day period in the Schengen area are not required to apply for a visa for countries that are parties to the Schengen Convention. This means that you can enter the Schengen area and move between the member countries with a single Schengen visa that you have received upon your first Schengen entry point, provided a ‘date stamp’ was place in your passport.

“Australians who are likely to spend more than 90 days within a 180 day period in the Schengen area or who are visiting for other than tourism or business purposes, must apply for a visa at an Embassy or Consulate of the Schengen country where you intend to stay the longest. If you will be staying an equal length of time in more than one Schengen country and cannot designate one of these countries as the country of your main destination, you must apply for your visa at the mission of the first Schengen country you intend to enter. Visa rules relating to work and business visits are governed by the individual countries.

“It is important to get your passport stamped when entering the Schengen area. The absence of an entry stamp from the initial Schengen port of entry could result in a fine or create difficulties during subsequent encounters with local police or other authorities throughout the Schengen area.

“For dual national Australians, be aware that the visa requirements described here only apply when travelling on your Australian passport. If you chose to travel on another passport, you will need to check the visa requirements for that nationality.

“Following the November 13 attacks in Paris, a number of countries in the Schengen area have tightened their border controls. Travellers may be required to produce their passport when crossing borders within the Schengen area. Always carry your passport at international railway stations and airports just in case. The tighter border controls have not changed visa arrangements as described above. See country advisories for details of entry and exit arrangements.     

“Some countries require you to register with local authorities within three working days of your arrival.”

"We recommend that you check that your passport has at least six months' validity prior to seeking to enter any part of the Schengen area.

“Travellers who exceed the 90 days within 180 days period of legal stay in the Schengen area without a valid visa risk being fined or even banned from entering the whole Schengen area for a period of time.”

"Australians should be aware that the United Kingdom, Ireland, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Kosovo, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine are not part of the Schengen area.

“Australians should consult the nearest High Commission, Embassy or Consulate of these countries for visa information.”

Top picture: Grindelwald, Switzerland, by Gemma Nisbet.

Fact File

Travellers needing to contact the nearest High Commission, Embassy or Consulate of the countries they plan to visit can find them here.

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