European citizens do not need a visa to travel to another EU country like France, but this is also the case for nationals of other countries around the world. Beneficiaries of a Schengen residence permit and the families of European citizens are also exempt, subject to certain conditions.
A visa is a sticker affixed by a country to a travel document (passport) to authorize a person to enter and stay in that country for a specified period. Citizens of the European Union do not need a visa to travel to another EU country.
In addition, several countries outside the European Union have signed agreements allowing all or certain categories of their citizens to travel to the EU without a visa. Finally, beneficiaries of a Schengen residence permit and the families of EU citizens are also exempt from visa requirements, subject to certain conditions.
Which travelers and which countries do not require a visa to enter and stay in the EU and Schengen area?
EU and Schengen area citizens
If you are a citizen of the European Union, you don’t need a visa to travel to another EU country, even if your stay is longer than three months: in this case, however, you will need to have sufficient resources and health insurance.
EU citizens also don’t need a visa to travel to Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (all members of the Schengen area). And it’s reciprocal: citizens of these countries don’t need a visa to travel within the EU.
Good to know
The Schengen area comprises 27 countries: 23 members of the European Union, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Four EU countries are not part of the Schengen area (Ireland, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria), and four Schengen countries are not part of the EU. Visa regulations in these countries are sometimes similar, sometimes different.
All French territories outside Europe – overseas departments and regions and overseas collectivities (COM) – are not part of the Schengen area.
In theory, you are not required to show your passport or identity card at the border between two Schengen countries. However, it is still strongly recommended that you carry one of these documents with you, so that you can prove your identity in case of need, particularly during police checks or when boarding an aircraft. Some European countries require you to carry such documents with you when you enter their territory.
In the event of “threats to public order or national security”, Schengen member states can temporarily re-establish border controls for a period limited, in principle, to 30 days. The European Parliament and Commission must then be informed. The Covid-19 pandemic saw the number of border controls explode from March 2020, even though such measures had already been in force in several countries including France since November 2015 and the attacks. In addition to these controls, several countries had introduced restrictions to limit access to their territory for travelers from high-risk countries or regions.
Citizens of non-EU countries with agreements in place
If you’re a citizen of a non-EU country on the list set out in regulations 2018/1806 and 2019/592, which lay down the rules for visa applications, you don’t need a visa for a short-term stay (less than 90 days) either. These countries have bilateral agreements with the European Union.
Non-EU and non-Schengen countries exempt from EU visa requirements:
Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Georgia, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mauritius, Mexico, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, United States, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, San Marino, Samoa, Solomon Islands, El Salvador, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Taiwan, East Timor, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela. Hong Kong and Macau are also affected for holders of certain passports, as well as non-national British citizens.
The list of countries whose nationals require a visa to travel to Ireland differs slightly from that of other EU member states. Nationals of South Africa, for example, do not need a visa to travel to the Emerald Isle.
Example: an American citizen does not need a visa to travel to an EU country for less than 90 days.
As of January 1, 2021 and its definitive departure from the European Union, the UK no longer applies European regulations, even though it has never been a member of the Schengen area.
However, under the trade agreement reached between London and Brussels on December 24, 2020, British citizens will also continue to be able to travel to the Schengen area without a visa for less than 90 days out of a 180-day period. At customs, however, they will have to queue up with other “non-Europeans”.
In June 2022, the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) approved the EU Council’s negotiating mandate on short-stay visa liberalization for Kuwait and Qatar. On the basis of this mandate, the Czech Presidency of the Council has begun negotiations with the European Parliament. Following revelations of suspected corruption within the Parliament involving Qatar, the start of negotiations was suspended.
The EU has also concluded visa facilitation agreements with several countries, including Armenia (2014), Azerbaijan (2014), Cape Verde (2014), Georgia (2011) and Russia (2007). These are linked to readmission agreements, which set out procedures for the return of illegal immigrants to the EU or partner third country.
Good to know
The visa facilitation agreement between the EU and Russia has been suspended since September 12, 2022. This decision follows the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army on February 24.
Several Schengen countries also provide for exemptions for special categories of third-country nationals (refugees, wards of the nation, diplomats and members of international organizations, etc.) and stateless persons from these countries.
Family members of European citizens
As explained earlier, EU citizens do not need a visa for a stay of more than three months in another EU country. They can be joined in this other EU country by family members (spouse, children, parents, grandchildren and grandparents) who are not citizens of an EU country, for more than three months. The latter are exempt from visa requirements, provided they obtain a “carte de séjour de membre de la famille d’un citoyen de l’UE” . Valid for five years, it allows visa-free travel within the EU, particularly for stays of more than three months.
This rule also applies to and from Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein (Schengen area).
Example: a Polish citizen is residing in Switzerland for a long-term stay; her Thai husband, who has obtained a residence permit as a family member of an EU citizen, can join her without a visa.
Please note: This requires that the EU citizen has actually “exercised his right to free movement”, i.e. that he has already obtained authorization to reside in a country other than his own for a period exceeding three months. On the other hand, if an EU citizen is only planning a short stay (less than 90 days) in a country other than his or her own, non-European family members who wish to join or accompany him or her during the trip – except in the cases mentioned above – require a visa. However, this can be issued quickly and free of charge, by virtue of the applicant’s status as a family member.
Example 2: a Polish citizen wishes to travel to Switzerland on business (short stay); in this case, her Thai husband must obtain a visa if he wishes to join her.
Non-EU citizens with a residence permit
If you are a citizen of a non-EU country (not included in the above lists), and you hold a valid residence permit issued by a Schengen member state (e.g. a temporary residence permit or a 10-year resident permit in France), you can also enter and leave the Schengen area on presentation of your passport and residence permit, and travel without a visa throughout the Schengen area, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus, for a short stay (90 days or more).
Example: an Algerian citizen holding a French residence permit can travel without a visa to another Schengen country, Bulgaria, Romania or Cyprus for less than 90 days.
On the other hand, a residence permit issued by an EU country outside the Schengen area does not allow visa-free travel within the Schengen area, or to other EU countries outside the Schengen area.
Who needs a visa to enter and stay in the EU and Schengen area?
Apart from the examples given above, a visa is required for nationals of non-EU countries wishing to travel within the EU and/or Schengen area.
The passport on which the visa is affixed must have been issued less than ten years previously, and be valid for at least three months after the date of departure from the Schengen area.
Within the Schengen area, there are two main types of visa: the short-stay visa (“Schengen visa”), valid for 90 days, and the long-stay visa. The latter is issued to people authorized to study, work, join their family or take part in a research project in a Schengen country.
Which visa to travel in France?
As a citizen of a third country, you can enter and stay in a Schengen country for a maximum period of three months (90 days).
Certain conditions must be met: possession of a valid travel document, ability to prove the purpose of the trip, sufficient means of subsistence, etc.
A short-stay visa, or “Schengen visa”, is then required. Its precise period of validity is indicated on the sticker.
The classic Schengen visa is valid for a maximum of “90 days in any 180-day period”. This means that an absence of 90 days without interruption entitles the holder to a further stay of up to 90 days.
Since 2020, countries have been able to issue so-called “multiple-entry” visas, to frequent travelers with a positive visa history. “Member states must pay particular attention to people traveling for professional purposes, such as businessmen and women, sailors, artists and athletes,” the legal text states.
The period of validity of these visas is gradually increasing, from one year to a maximum of five years.
How can I stay in the EU for more than 90 days?
For stays of more than 90 days, a long-term visa (or residence permit) is required.
Each EU country sets its own conditions for obtaining a long-stay visa. But they all distinguish between four main reasons for staying: to join family, to study, to work or to carry out a research project.
Some countries require both a long-stay visa and a residence permit.
Does the visa for France allow me to travel within the EU?
As a general rule, a visa issued by a Schengen state allows you to enter and stay in another Schengen state.
However, at the border or during other checks, you may be asked to show not only your visa, but also other documents attesting, for example, that you have sufficient means to cover the costs of your stay and your return journey (documents you already showed when you applied for your visa).
A long-stay visa or residence permit issued by a Schengen state authorizes you to travel to or stay in another Schengen country for a short stay (90 days in any 180-day period).
Flights between two or more Schengen countries are referred to as “domestic” flights: depending on your nationality, you may need a short-stay visa even if you are only staying a few hours in a Schengen airport, outside the international transit zone for which a visa is not required. This is the case when traveling to a Schengen country via the airport of another Schengen country, or when traveling to a non-Schengen country via two Schengen airports.
Nationals of certain countries also need an “airport transit visa” to enter the international transit zone of an airport in all or some Schengen countries.
European visa policy
The European Union has introduced common rules on visas for short stays. It has also harmonized the procedures and conditions for issuing short-stay and airport transit visas. Finally, the third element of the common visa policy concerns the single format of the visa sticker.
Where and how to obtain an EU visa?
You must apply for a visa at the consulate of the country you intend to visit. If you plan to travel to several Schengen countries, you should apply to the consulate of the country that is your main destination (main purpose of stay or longest stay).
If you intend to stay in several Schengen states for equivalent lengths of time, the application should be sent to the consulate of the country whose external borders you will cross first to enter the Schengen area. In some countries, a Schengen state may not have a consulate: in this case, it must be represented by the consulate of another Schengen state.
When to apply for a visa for France?
Visa applications must be submitted between 6 months and 15 calendar days before the start of the trip. On average, the consulate takes 15 days to make a decision. The waiting time can be as long as 30 or even 60 days, depending on the case.
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What happens if my visa or residence permit is missing or expires?
If you do not meet or no longer meet the conditions for entry and residence in an EU country, you are not authorized to stay there. This is the case if you are not in possession of an appropriate visa or residence permit, or if you remain in the country after the expiry date of your visa or permit.
If your illegal stay is discovered, you will be subject to a “return decision“. Issued by a court or other competent authority, this declares that your stay is illegal and obliges you to leave the country. You will be asked to leave voluntarily, usually with a delay of one to four weeks.
However, if the authorities fear that you will flee, try to avoid your return or obstruct it, for example, you may be placed in temporary detention while you prepare for your trip.
If you do not leave voluntarily, you may be sent back to your country and banned from re-entering the EU. Other sanctions may also be applied to you, depending on the circumstances and the country where you work.
A person subject to a return order can always request that the order be reviewed by a competent judicial authority.