What Is The Schengen Area & Why Does It Matter?

In recent news, the US government has banned all flights to and from all countries in the European Schengen Area. But why? Why a blanket ban over most of Europe but countries like the United Kingdom are excepted?

What is the special border between different European nations? Photo: Getty Images

What is the Schengen Zone?

The Schengen Area or Zone is a special area that allows free movement of people throughout each of the member countries. They do not need a visa, they don’t need to declare their intentions (ala business or pleasure) and they can stay there as long as possible (even move in and get a job).

In fact, many of the borders between each of the countries don’t actually have any barriers. That means that highways pass through without any checkpoints and in the case of air travel, passengers can board and land at many different airports without immigration. It is almost the same as traveling within the United States, but you do need to carry your passport.

What Is The Schengen Area & Why Does It Matter?
Map of Europe. Navy represents countries in the Schengen Zone, green and yellow are countries outside the zone. Photo: Wikipedia

Which countries are part of the Schengen Zone?

It is part of the unifying principles that make up the European Union, but not every country that is a member of the European Union actually abide by it.

The countries that allow free passage from other member countries are:

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

Notably, there are a few European countries that don’t actually allow free travel and are a bit more complex to get into (and you might need a visa despite having one for the Schengen area).

Ireland is a member of the EU, but not a member of the Schengen Zone. They do not allow free passage to their country. Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria are joined the EU but are not yet allowing free travel in their borders. Many EU citizens have access to these countries without issues, but they are technically not part of the Schengen Zone.

What does it mean for the coronavirus?

With the news that the United States has banned all flights to and from the Schengen Zone for the next 30 days, this means that the list above is the definitive list of destinations no longer allowed by the US government.

However, as pointed out by the US, this does not apply to countries outside of the Schengen Zone (despite them being in the EU) such as Ireland, Britain, Croatia, Cyprus, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Now, these countries are all right next to Europe and technically could have the virus. But thanks to their border policies and lack of free movement of people, the US government believes that this will greatly reduce the flow of the virus from Europe to the United States. Europe has not been a source of the coronavirus, but it has been hit hard with countries like Italy reporting 12,000 cases.

Some of these unreported cases may be traveling to other areas in Europe and spreading it there, and the United States doesn’t want to take any chances.

What do you think? Are you affected by this ban? Let us know in the comments.