Visiting the Schengen Area: What American Travelers Need to Know
If you hear the term “Schengen zone” and think of a shadowy area from a ‘60s spy novel, pull up a chair. There are some things Americans should know about traveling this region of Europe, including a new requirement.
Let’s start with the basics:
What is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen zone – also known as the Schengen area – is actually a group of 27 popular European countries: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
It exists so people who live inside the zone can travel between countries without a passport.
Many travelers from around the world need a special Schengen visa when they travel to countries in the Schengen area, but Americans don’t. For that reason, you may have even been to the Schengen zone and not have realized it.
However, Americans and other travelers have to follow special travel rules inside the Schengen area.
Schengen Requirements for Americans
To start with, U.S. citizens need the following when they enter the Schengen area:
- A valid U.S. passport for at least 90 days beyond your intended departure from the Schengen area
- Evidence on purpose of entry
Starting in early 2024, Americans (and travelers from other countries) will need to register on the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) for any trip of 90 days or less to any country in the Schengen zone.
ETIAS is similar to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, where non-U.S. citizens register before traveling to the United States of America. It’s a pre-screen to identify bad actors that requires you to enter some basic personal and travel information and pay a small fee.
If an American wants to stay for more than 90 days in the Schengen area they need to apply for a residence permit in the country where they’ll be staying. This can take time, so travelers should apply for a permit as soon as they know they’ll be extending their stay.
The EU has tried to standardize application procedures for residence permits, so you shouldn’t expect many curveballs. However, you should be prepared to establish:
- That you have money to live on
- That you have accommodations set up
- That you have international medical insurance
International Health Insurance
Of those three requirements for residence permits, international medical insurance is the one most fraught with uncertainty for many travelers.
That’s because (according to Generali’s page on international travel insurance):
- Your health insurance may not provide coverage for hospitalization
- Your health insurance may not have dedicated resources abroad
- Your healthcare provider may not provide real-time assistance
- You may need secondary coverage due to the rising costs of medical evacuations
- And, in this case, because it’s required in Europe
The application process for a Schengen visa also requires proof of travel medical insurance with coverage for certain elements, including emergency hospital treatment and emergency medical evacuation. While Generali doesn’t offer a policy only for travel medical insurance, the Standard, Preferred, or Premium plans fulfill the Schengen visa insurance requirements.
Sometimes you hear the term “Schengen visa” thrown around in regard to American travelers to Europe, so let’s make sure we’re crystal-clear on this: Americans do not need a Schengen visa to visit the Schengen area.
Americans will need to show a valid passport, proof of financial viability, and a travel itinerary, and complete the online entry form as of November, 2023. That’s it.
For those that need one, Schengen visas come with additional requirements for travelers beyond what an American has to do to enter the area.
For instance, an applicant that is a citizen of the Dominican Republic (or any of the other countries listed here) would have to supply the following to get a Schengen tourist visa:
- A completed application form
- Two recent photos
- Valid passport
- Roundtrip reservation or itinerary
- Travel health insurance
- Proof of accommodation
- Proof of financial means (bank account statement or sponsorship letter)
- Evidence of employment status
- If a student, proof of enrollment and a no-objection letter from their university
Fortunately, if they’re a U.S. resident, travel insurance from Generali meets the travel health insurance requirement.
The idea behind the Schengen zone is great, especially for residents of Schengen countries. For people looking to travel into these countries, it’s not quite so great, because requirements can seem unclear and there’s some added paperwork.
However, the requirements are pretty inconsequential for the convenience of near-frictionless movement within the Schengen area.
Questions on traveling into the Schengen area? We’re here to help. And we have the travel insurance you need to take the worry out of your European vacation.
Get a quote today.