Bulgaria and Romania to join
Schengen Area

On 30 December 2023, the European Council unanimously agreed to accept Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area, the largest free travel zone in the world. Controls at air and sea borders will be lifted in March 2024, and discussions on a further decision to lift controls at land borders will continue in 2024.

This is the ninth enlargement of the Schengen area, and the EU hopes the decision will strengthen the internal market and boost travel, trade and tourism.

The European Commission first confirmed that Bulgaria and Romania were ready to become part of the Schengen area in 2011. Since then, both countries have continued to demonstrate that they meet the requirements of becoming a Schengen member.

President von der Leyen said: “Today marks a historic moment for Bulgaria and Romania. And a day of great pride for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens. As of March, they will be able to freely cross internal sea and air borders, without border controls. This is a major step forward for both countries and for the Schengen area as a whole. Congratulations to Bulgaria and Romania: this great achievement is possible thanks to your hard work, commitment and perseverance. Thanks to you the Schengen area will become even stronger to the benefit of all EU citizens.”

Once the border checks are lifted in March, individuals and businesses will be able to benefit from their rights to free movement by air and sea when entering or leaving Bulgaria and Romania.

What is the Schengen area?

Europe’s border-free Schengen area guarantees free movement to close to 450 million EU citizens, along with non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU. Free movement means every EU citizen can travel, work and live in an EU country without special formalities. The Schengen area underpins this freedom by allowing citizens to move around the 27 Schengen member countries without any border checks.

The Schengen area is an integral part of the EU’s legal framework. According to the Treaties all EU Member States of the EU need to become, when ready, full members of the Schengen area. This is both a right and an obligation.

Do I need a visa to travel to the Schengen area?

Nationals of certain countries (including British citizens) can travel to the Schengen area for tourism or business purposes without requiring a visa. These visa-exempt citizens can enter and travel within the zone for short stays of up to 90 days within any 180-day period. However, these individuals may need a visa or permit if they wish to work or study in an EU country.

Nationals of other countries are required to obtain a Schengen visa if they wish to enter any Schengen member country. A Schengen visa allows the holder to enter and travel freely within the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, primarily for tourism or business purposes.

From April 1 2024, Bulgaria and Romania will begin issuing standard short-term Schengen C visas, as per recent EU directives.

The EU is also in the process of digitalising the Schengen visa process and creating a new EU-wide online platform for applications by 2025.

Next steps

The EU expects that the accession of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area will help make the Union more attractive and prosperous by eliminating time lost at borders and facilitating smoother travel for people and businesses.

Discussions on a date for the possible lifting of controls at land borders will continue in 2024, and a decision by the Council is expected to be reached within a reasonable timeframe. In the meantime, border checks will continue to apply for those travelling by land between either Bulgaria or Romania and other Schengen area countries.

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