Monday, May 26, 2008

What you need to know about Schengen

There's a lot of confusion about the Schengen area and how it affects North Americans, Australians, and other non-EU citizens living and working in Spain. In some cases the Schengen accord can work in our favor by allowing us to travel freely. But for the most part it makes life more difficult for non-Europeans in Spain because it limits the number of places we can travel to without risking problems.

The good part is that you can often travel between countries in the Schengen area without having to show your passport. That's because the Schengen countries have open borders for citizens of member countries -- an Italian traveling to Finland, for example, would not need to show his/her passport (unless the authorities request it for reasons of public health or safety; i.e., unless they look suspicious!). So if you arrive in Paris on a flight from Barcelona, there may not be any passport control at Charles de Gaulle. Non-Schengen country citizens may be asked to show their passports at the country of departure or arrival, but this doesn't always happen.

If you do, however, end up having to show your passport on arrival or departure, you run the risk of getting caught. If the authorities of another Schengen country see that you have been in Spain for too long, they can refuse you entry, send you back to Spain, or send you packing to your home country. This DOES happen. I personally know Australians and Americans who overstayed their 90-day allowance in Spain (in one case by more than three years) and were caught by authorities in Norway, Italy, and England. The interesting thing is that neither England nor Ireland form part of the Schengen area, but since they are part of the EU, they do keep an eye out for illegals. Norway, on the other hand, is not part of the EU but is part of the Schengen group.

If you travel between a Schengen or EU country and a non-Schengen/EU country, you will have to show ID -- for example, if you fly from Madrid to Geneva or Casablanca. (However, Geneva only serves as an example until November 2008, at which time it is supposed to be part of Schengen.)

For more information on Schengen, check out my guide to traveling in the Schengen countries.

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