Europe encompasses an area of 10,180,000km² (3,930,000 square miles), stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations.
It’s easy to see why – a well preserved cultural heritage, open borders and efficient infrastructure makes visiting Europe a breeze, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture, and dive into a different phrasebook. Although it is the world’s smallest continent in land surface area, there are profound differences between the cultures and ways of life in its countries.
The eastern border of Europe, for instance, is not well defined. The Caucasus states are sometimes considered part of Asia due to geography, and much of Russia and almost all of Turkey are geographically Asian. The UK, Ireland and Iceland all manage to sneak in.
Must-visits include France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain. Don’t let your sense of adventure fail you by missing out on Scandinavia, Poland, Portugal, or the microstates of Andorra, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.
Many European countries are members of the European Union (EU), which has its own currency (the Euro) and laws. There are no border controls between signatory countries (only at the outside borders). Note that not all EU members adopted the Schengen Agreement (open borders) or the Euro, and not all countries that adopted Schengen or Euro are European Union members. Confusing? Just wait!
How to go
Rules for entering Europe depend on where you are going. EU/EFTA citizens can travel freely throughout the continent (except Russia, Belarus and the Caucasus), so the following applies only to non-EU/EFTA citizens.
If you are entering a Schengen country and you plan to visit only other Schengen countries, you need only one Schengen visa. The 90 days visa-free stay applies for the whole Schengen area, i.e. it is not 90 days per country as some assume. Citizens of the above countries who wish to travel around Europe for longer than 90 days must apply for a residency permit. This can be done in any Schengen country, but Germany or Italy are recommended, because many other countries require applicants to apply from their home countries. Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information.
Only the nationals of the following non-EEA countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area: Albania*, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro*, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan*** (Republic of China), United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.
These non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay (although some Schengen countries do allow certain nationalities to work – see below). The counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa. However, Australian and New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they only visit particular Schengen countries—see the New Zealand Government’s explanation.
Note that while British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar are considered “United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes” and therefore eligible for unlimited access to the Schengen Area,
British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom as well as British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general do require visas.
However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
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