The 26 Schengen countries in Europe have no passport controls for travel between them, which make them a joy to travel between, as only a single Schengen visa is required.
On the 7th April 2017 EU officials implemented stauncher border checks to help "protect the EU from terrorism", targeting travelers of all nationalities (including EU citizens). The new rules required checking of IDs and passports against anti-terrorism databases; and resulted in queues at border entry points into the EU.
Update: 9 April 2017 : Following large delays at its airpots, Greece has suspended implementation of the stricter border checks for 6 months. Greece will continue to conduct in depth checks against suspicious travelers; as allowed in an article of the Schengen rules. The same article has been invoked by Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Italy and Hungary.
The Ukraine isn't part of the Schengen area, but there some good news for Ukranian citizens - the European Parliament (EP) has voted to allow Ukrainian citizens with a biometric visa to enter the Schengen area for up to 90 days for the purposes of travel, visiting family, visiting friends or business (but not to get a job). There is one more obstacles which needs to be passed, and that is that the EU Council of Ministers must formally approve the resolution. The likely date that the new rule is implemented is June 2017.
5 April 2017. Long queues of at least 3 hours formed at the border between Spain and Gibraltar, which the Gibraltar government say they will be questioning the Spanish parliament about.
7 December 2015: With the growing ISIS threat, EU countries have called for greater border controll. Please take into account that countries are on high alert and make sure that you have all the required documents ready for inspection. Also keep an eye out as the future of the Schengen Visa has also been questioned of late.
2 April 2014 : Recognising the hurt that it is causing to tourism and hence jobs, the European Commission (EC) has proposed a relaxation of the Schengen visa rules (happily this announcement was not made on the 1st of April!):
possible relaxation of requirement to meet in person for people who have visited the Schengen Area before.
Simplification of supporting documents required
Wider use of multiple entry visas.
In 2012 an estimated 7m people didnt' visit Europe as a result of the strict visa rules. The study focussed on travellers from South Africa, China, India, Russia, Ukraine & Saudi Arabia. Interesting facts:
The majority of travellers to Europe like to book within 30 days of their trip. South Africans are the exception to the rule - 57% of us like to book at least 1 to 3 months before the trip and 11% 3 to 6 months before (29% book within 30 days).
Travellers from the Middle-East & South Africa stay in the longest in the Schengen Area, at an average of 10 nights.
The number of South Africans being issued with Schengen visas decreased from 2011 to 2012.
An increasing number of South Africans are taking out multiple entry visas to Schengen countries.
33% of the time dependents are required to produce marriage certificates in their application.
The most common reason for Schengen visa applications being refused in SA, is that "applicants lack proof of will
Nearly 20% of South Africans travel to Europe as singles, whilst in other countries it's fewer than 10%.
China & South Africa have the highest proportion of visa applicants who feel it is a problem to have to show up in person at the embassy.
65% of South Africans think the cost of a Schengen visa is an issue.
Not all EU countries are part of the Schengen area, and to visit those you'll have to go through the normal visa application process - the 6 outsiders are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania & the UK.
Bulgaria and Romania are in negotiations to become part of the Schengen area (Romania joined the EU in 2007). The European Commission believes the countries have been ready since 2010, but they have been blocked by several member countries who have cited corruption, organised crime and poor border controls.
Cyprus has a target date of 2016, there are issues surrounding the conflict between Turkish & Greek Cypriots around the self-declared nation of Northern Cyprus.
If all goes to plan, Croatia will become part of the Schengen Area in 2015.
Serbia is not part of the Schengen area, so you'll need a separate visa to visit the country.
You'll apply for your Schengen Visa at at the embassy of the country you'll be staying in the longest (if you're visiting more than one Schengen country for equivalent lengths of time, you apply at the embassy of the Schengen country you're entering first). You will also need to specify which countries you are visiting when you apply for the visa, so you, theoretically speaking, can't roam around the Schengen Area as you please.
Applications must take place not more than 3 months and not less than 15 days before your intended visit.
Since the 6th June 2013 fingerprints are required, meaning that you need to appear in person at the embassy or consultate.
To apply for a Schengen visa you need to submit the following documents:
Completed application form.
A South African Passport, not older than 10 years, with at least 2 blank pages and valid for at least 3 months after the date you leave all Schengen countries. Temporary passports are not recognised by many Schengen countries.
Two colour photos which meet the Schengen requirements.
If you are travelling elsewhere before returning to South Africa, you'll need to get the visas of the country which you're leaving the Schengen countries for, before you apply for the Schengen visa (e.g. if you're going to the UK after visiting the Schengen countries).
Proof that you paid the visa fee.
Copy of round-trip airline tickets & itinerary, specifying when you're entering & when you're leaving the Schengen area.
Bank statements for the last 3 months, to prove sufficient funds (the amount required varies by country). Provide proof of travellers' cheques, tax receipts for any forex bought and credit card statements or an original letter from the bank showing proving the credit amount.
Proof that you have the minimum Schengen Travel Medical Insurance.
Proof of your hotel bookings. If staying with a friend/family, an invitation letter with a copy of the host's passport/ID.
If travelling on business, a letter from your employer stating why you're visiting as well as a letter from the company in the Schengen country you're going to. If you're going to a conference, then send proof of payment and registration.
The unabridged birth certificate of children younger than 18 - this contains full particulars of the of the individual, parents, ID numbers, names in full, city/town of birth & their citizenship. The abridged certificate, by contrast, only shows the child and mother's ID numbers, names of birth and country of birth. A document providing consent should be provided by any of the child's parents not travelling with the child. South Africa has only been issuing unabridged birth certificates since 4 March 2013.
Proof of employment in the form of a letter from the company you work for, stating your period of leave and that you'll continue to be employed when you get back.
It's entirely possible that these rules have changed since this page was published, and it's therefore crucial to check with the relevant embassy for latest rules before applying.
The Schengen visa allows a maximum of 90 days travel in Schengen countries you've applied to visit, for every 180 days period. It can be single or multiple entry. The day of your arrival and departure count as full days towards the 90. If you leave the Schengen area in the middle of your travels then those days don't count towards your total of 90 days (e.g. if you go to London for 5 days).
There are 26 Schengen countries, and here follows links to their embassies in South Africa as well as embassy phone numbers (and some feedback we've received - we have no opinion on its accuracy):
Estonia (doesn't issue visas in SA, use the Swedish Embassy)
"German Embassy very efficient and friendly, French not so friendly but efficient". Claudette
The German Embassy in Pretoria announced that they were opening visa application centres in PE, Cape Town & Centurion from the 16th to the 30th September 2013; which will be operated by Intergate Visalink CC (a private company based in Cape Town). This is in addition to the German Embassy in Pretoria, the German Embassy in Windhoek, the German Consulate in Cape Town, the Honorary Consul in Durban and the Liason Office in Mbabane. The process is to apply at least 3 weeks before the date of your cruise or flight to Europe. Apply online for a German Schengen Visa appointment and fill in ALL field of the application form, select a date from the calendar, make payment, and then you'll get an email (and possibly an sms, if you've provided your cellphone number) with all the details of your appointment & what documentation you need. You'll need to print the email and your application form, and take the specified documents with you to your appointment.
"German Embassy, Windhoek efficient and quick about it, so typically Deutsch but it works. In less than 10 minutes we were done." Tumino
"German embassy in Cape Town was fantastic! Visa was processed, approved and sent back to me (courier) in 1 and a half days!" Jessica
"Germans are strict. Visas for exact days in Schengen states. I've had a 30 day from the French. A 90 day from the Spaniards". Mel
Hungary Embassy Pretoria
Iceland - use the Danish Embassy
"Italian Consulate in Cape Town was without a hitch and quick, French Consulate was rude and slow." Salmon
"My Italian visa was ready after 3 working days. The people at the embassy are not very friendly and will make it known that they are not there to help you but I still got my visa."
"My husband and I barely sat down at Capago in Sandton for Italian Visas yesterday when we were called to the counter. We handed over each document as requested, were finger-printed and left. The young man who processed our application was professional and curteous.The entire process, from walk-in to walk-out, took less than half an hour." Rashree
Latvia - represented by the Hungarian Embassy
Lithuania - represented by the Hungarian Embassy
Luxembourg - represented by the Belgian Embassy
Malta - represented by the Italian Embassy
Norway (012-364-3700 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Poland Embassy Pretoria
"During 2011 we had to apply for our Schengen visa’s through the Spanish Embassy. Living in Port Elizabeth we had to apply for it in Cape Town. We completed everything and my son being in Cape Town for only a week took all the forms in, the staff were very friendly and within four days we had our visa’s. There were NO special favours, they understood he was there for only a week and that was it! Thumbs up for the Spanish Embassy staff!" Leonie
Switzerland Embassy Pretoria (012-452-0662)
Even though they are not officially part of the Schengen area, Monaco, San Marino & the Vatican do not have passport controls with the Schengen countries which surround them.
Under Article 25 of the European Union Visa Code, it is possible for a Schengen Visa to be issued which is not valid for all member states!
If your Schengen Visa says something like "ETATS SCHENGEN ( - DE)" on it, this means that you can visit all Schengen countries except Germany (DE is the code for Germany)!
In October 2011 the Visa Information System was implemented, which links all the border agencies of Schengen countries are to a central system to allow visa applications to be cross-checked against it, and to share all information.
Capago South Africa arranges Schengen visas for Italy and France, through its My Europe Visa page.
2013-07-11 Czech Republic Gaborone Consulate Closed : Due to the absence of Mr Branko Cavrić (the Honorary Consul), the Czech Republic's Consulate in Gaborone (Botswana) will be closed from the 1st July 2013 to the 2nd August 2013, and then again from the 31st August 2013 until the 7th September 2013. During these periods queries should made to the Pretoria Embassy of the Czech Republic.
2013-06-24 Lithuania Supports Romania & Bulgaria : Lithuania has confirmed that it still supports Romania & Bulgaria's applications to join the Schengen Area: "Minister Linas Linkevicius reaffirmed the support for Romania and Bulgaria's Schengen accession and the idea was also unequivocally voiced that the subject remains a priority on the agenda of the forthcoming Lithuanian EU Presidency. Practically, the full support was reaffirmed without a shred of doubt, as in the message conveyed to the Romanian foreign minister during his Baltic tour and in Lithuania in particular." said a spokesman for the Romanian Foreign Ministry.
On the 26th March 1995 the Schengen Agreement came into being when it was signed in a village in Luxembourg called "Schengen".
Author : Rob Baker
If you're wanting something more permanent, why not apply for residencey in an EU country.
If you've had enough of applying for Schengen Visas, why not apply for the Malta Global Residence Programme via an "authorised mandatory" (once residence status is granted the need to apply for a Schengen visa falls away):
Pay an administrative fee to apply.
Demonstrate you have sufficient medical insurance & are financially self-sufficient.
Buy a property or rent a property of sufficient value
Spend no more than 183 days a year overseas away from Malta.
Pay a minimum tax of €15,000 per family, per annum.
In 2010 Latvia legislated that foreigners who buy property worth at least 70,000 Euros in Riga and surrounds can obtain a 5-year residency permit.
In October 2012 Portugal changed its law to allow anybody who buys a residential property for €500,000 or a commercial property for €680,000 to obtain a residence visa. Owners may spend only 6 months per 12 months travelling around the Schengen Area, the remainder of the year they must be in Portugal or outside the EU - only 1 week has to be spent in Portugual in the first year and 2 weeks in the second. Owners don't have to live full-time in their properties and can rent them out when they're not living in them. The residence visa is valid for a year, and then can be renewed twice for 2-years each time, and at the end of the 5 years one can apply for a Portuguese passport. Children younger than 18 and spouses may also apply for residence.
Spain has a residence arrangement in exchange for investment. Children younger than 18 and spouses can also apply for residence. Most enquiries have come from South Africans.
Cyprus & Ireland are not part of the Schengen area, but also have residence arrangements in exchange for investments.
Click here to read our article on how to get an Indian visa if you're South African.