Travelling to Europe for the Holidays? Know Schengen

If you’re travelling to Europe over the holidays or into the summer season, you need to (1) re-evaluate your documentation, (2) make sure passports have plenty of valid time left on them, (3) understand and pack your travel insurance documentation (required for entering some European countries), and (4) remain well informed about the effects of the continuing refugee migration crisis and its impact on border controls throughout member countries of the Schengen Area common travel agreement.

Never heard of Schengen? Well start now. It’s the international agreement that has allowed you to move across most European borders almost seamlessly for the past 15 or 20 years. But with asylum seekers from the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere heading to Europe in droves, some European countries fear their only solution to avoid being overrun is to reinstitute the very passport and visa controls that Schengen was designed to break down.

This situation could affect you directly, even though Canadian and American passport holders don’t need visas to enter any Schengen countries for stays up to 90 days. This area covers most, though not all, EU countries (the U.K. being one such exception), and several countries that are not part of the EU. In total, it includes 26 countries—from Norway and Finland in the north, to Greece in the south. See the list of current Schengen countries at the end of the article.

To enter a Schengen country, say Belgium, you are required to show your valid passport. But once you are in a Schengen country, you can travel across the entire Schengen area relatively freely and not have to deal with onerous border controls or passport checks. But if any of the major member countries reinstitute their own border controls (as some have threatened to do), the whole system might crumble. And we would all be back to the days of tortuous lineups going from country to country—even if just changing planes.

To protect yourself against such an eventuality—one that can literally pop up overnight—be sure to do the following:

  • Have at least three months of validity left on your passport beyond your scheduled return date
  • Have proof of your ongoing itinerary
  • Ensure that you keep regular contact with your government travel alert and warning system (via your phone or tablet) when moving between countries or even regions within certain countries
  • Carry proof of private/supplemental health insurance to cover the entirety of your stay. Among countries that require such proof, coverage of at least €30,000 is the usually required. Your provincial health insurance doesn’t come anywhere close to that amount (see the previous article on travel alert warnings).

As it stands, Austria announced it is putting up a fence along its border with Slovenia, and numerous other countries have reinstated border controls. We could very well be witnessing the end of the Schengen Area, so make sure you keep your eye on this story as it develops.

Schengen Area member countries:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. The U.K. and Ireland are members of the EU, but are Schengen opt-outs. 

For travel insurance related questions and products, visit Ingle International for more information.

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