These 2 Countries Will Officially Join Europe’s Schengen Travel Zone

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One of Europe’s greatest achievements, the Schengen Area allows travelers to country-hope around the continent typically without undergoing identity checks: going from Germany into France, then down to Italy, and east into Croatia, it’s almost as if you’re traveling domestically.

Aerial View Of The Old City Of Sibiu In Transylvania, Historical Region Of Romania, Eastern Balkans, Eastern EuropeAerial View Of The Old City Of Sibiu In Transylvania, Historical Region Of Romania, Eastern Balkans, Eastern Europe

It has greatly facilitated European integration, and it’s made international travel hassle-free for those vacationing in Europe, but it has not come without its downsides.

Currently, travelers are not allowed to remain more than 90 days out of any 180-day period in Schengen.

This means any time spent in the zone, even if it’s split between different countries, counts towards the 90-day limit. Now, two more countries are joining the party:

Bulgaria And Romania Are Welcomed Into Schengen

After years of waiting on the sidelines, Bulgaria and Romania will be formally ascending into Schengen in March 2024.

Rila Monastery In Bulgaria, Eastern EuropeRila Monastery In Bulgaria, Eastern Europe

Though they have been members of the European Union since 2007, they have not been permitted into the border-free zone due to security concerns.

Now, issues raised by other Schengen members, particularly Austria and the Netherlands, who staunchly opposed their accession, seem to have finally been addressed and resolved, as the blockage is expected to be lifted next year.

You may be wondering how that affects you as an American traveling in Europe.

If you’re traveling in Europe long-term, especially if you’re a digital nomad relying on the so-called Schengen ‘visa runs’, this could affect you deeply.

A Person Stands Behind A White Line And An European Union EU Flag Painted On The Ground Alongside Their BackpackA Person Stands Behind A White Line And An European Union EU Flag Painted On The Ground Alongside Their Backpack

As for short-term tourists, you are concerned as well, as time and again Americans who don’t fully understand the concept of Schengen and its implications are caught on the wrong side of the law and get issued huge fines, or even risk a ban on returning to Europe.

Let’s unpack this.

How Does This Affect You As An American?

As you should know by now, Schengen is a common travel area comprising 27 European countries (so far) where border controls have been abolished.

Traveler Holding USA Passport At AirportTraveler Holding USA Passport At Airport

Unlike the United States and Canada, or the United States and Mexico, where cross-border travel routinely involves passport checks and strict questioning, there is no such thing across most of Europe, seeing that most internal checkpoints have been removed.

Despite being members of the European Union, Bulgaria and Romania had been left out of Schengen indefinitely amid the European migration crisis and over fears they would be unable to stem the influx of refugees coming from the Eastern flank.

After all, they are the closest ones to Turkiye, a popular transit route for escapees from the Middle East, and once they were in Schengen, other European countries in the vicinity would no longer be able to check individuals coming into their territories.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, Balkan PeninsulaAlexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

As a result, there has always been passport control traveling from these two neighbors and other EU/Schengen states, seeing that, in order to ascend to Schengen, Bulgaria and Romania would need unanimous approval from all 27 current members.

Following extensive debate recently, Austria (the main opponent to Schengen expansion) has agreed to let them in partially. In other words, an ‘Air Schengen‘ will be created, lifting existing checks on air travel specifically.

Persons traveling from Bulgaria or Romania into other Schengen states via land will still be subjected to passport control, but not those traveling airside, which applies to a majority of passengers.

Airplane WIndow City View Flying Over Paris, EuropeAirplane WIndow City View Flying Over Paris, Europe

The measure is expected to reduce waiting times at airports dramatically, seeing that, landing in Bulgaria or Romania from the Schengen Area, or vice-versa, tourists are currently required to wait in line to speak to a customs agent, undergo a short interview, and then be stamped into the country.

It’s not all good news, though.

As Schengen member states, however partial, Bulgaria and Romania will apply the Schengen acquis.

In simpler terms, spending time in these two countries will impact your allowed period of stay in other EU/Schengen states.

This wasn’t the case before.

delay airportdelay airport

Americans Will Technically Have Less Time To Explore Europe

As current non-Schengen countries, Bulgaria and Romania allowed tourists to stay for 90 days in each, independently of time spent in other EU/Schengen countries.

This was a popular ‘loophole’ for slow travelers and digital nomads in Europe, who would typically use up the 90 days they have in Schengen, then travel onward to Bulgaria or Romania for an additional 90 days until the 180-day period would elapse, and they could return to the border-free zone.

From March 2024, once aviation checks are axed, this will in theory no longer be possible.

Bran Castle In Romania, Eastern Balkan, Balkan Peninsula, Eastern EuropeBran Castle In Romania, Eastern Balkan, Balkan Peninsula, Eastern Europe

Here’s an example: if you fly nonstop from JFK to Bucharest next summer, and you spend 30 days traveling around the beautiful, castle-dotted Transylvanian hinterland of Romania, you will only have 60 more days to use up in the whole of Schengen later over the next six months.

Similarly, if you first land in Spain and you spend 47 days in the country, you will then have only 43 days to travel in other Schengen members, at least until a brand new 180-day period commences.

With Bulgaria and Romania’s accession, you will essentially have less time to discover Europe, as is the case with any new country that joins Schengen, and inevitably increases the size of the passport-free zone.

A Sand Stretch Of Beach In Sunny Beach, A Seaside Resort In Bulgaria Bounded By The Black Sea, South Eastern Europe, Eastern BalkanA Sand Stretch Of Beach In Sunny Beach, A Seaside Resort In Bulgaria Bounded By The Black Sea, South Eastern Europe, Eastern Balkan

The current Schengen member states are the following:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
  • Croatia
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Starting March 2024, Bulgaria and Romania will be joining that list.

woman tourist photographing ancient theater in Plovdiv, Bulgariawoman tourist photographing ancient theater in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Reiterating, as an American tourist, you can only be present in the Schengen Zone, including all of the countries listed above, and the additional two that are set to join, for 90 days within a wider 180 days.

This can either be used up ‘all at once’, continuously, or distributed over any given 180 days.

Needless to say, digital nomads and long-term visitors to Europe will no longer be able to wait for their 180-day period to elapse in Bulgaria and Romania, as they could previously, because they too will apply Schengen Area rules.

Overstaying the 90 days can result in eye-watering fines, or even a years-long ban on visits to all countries in the Schengen Area (most of Europe).

The Romanian Athenaeum Concert Hall Pictured In Spring, Bucharest, Romania, Eastern EuropeThe Romanian Athenaeum Concert Hall Pictured In Spring, Bucharest, Romania, Eastern Europe

Not All Of Europe Is In Schengen… Yet

This does not mean you cannot spend longer than 90 days at a time in Europe: there are still many countries in the continent that are not part of the European Union nor its associated Schengen Area.

These include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia, where Americans can stay for 90 days each, and a whopping one uninterrupted year in Albania.

Further afield, visits to Eurasian countries such as Turkiye or Georgia do not have an impact on future Schengen stays.

Big Ben in LondonBig Ben in London

EU member states Ireland and Cyprus are not in Schengen, either, and they offer Americans a 90-day stay irrespective of previous visits to Schengen.

Similarly, the United Kingdom is a viable option, as U.S. passport holders can spend 180 days in British territory regardless of time spent in other European countries.

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