Backpacking Europe: What is the Schengen Zone?

If you’re planning a backpacking trip to Europe, and you’ve done a bit of research so far, chances are you’ve come across something called the Schengen Zone. When I first started planning my backpacking trip through the Europe, I keep reading about articles that talked about the Schengen Zone, but I never fully understood what they were talking about. Which countries are located in the zone? Which countries aren’t? How does that affect my travel plans? Those were all questions I needed answered. If you’re like me, and are still a bit confused by the Schengen Zone, hopefully this post will clear things up for you.

Why is the Schengen Zone important?

For travelers, it’s important because the Schengen Zone has specific rules as to how long you’re allowed to stay in the zone. The zone happens to include the majority of popular European countries first time travelers to Europe plan on visiting.

What is the Schengen Zone?

The Schengen Zone is an an area in Europe consisting of 26 European countries. In 1995, there was an agreement made (called the Schengen Borders Agreement), which allows people to travel freely between the Schengen Zone, much like people in the U.S. can travel freely between different states. It makes traveling to other European countries a lot more convenient. You only go through customs the first time you arrive into a country that is part of the Schengen Zone. After that, you’re able to travel around freely, without having to go through customs, until you arrive into a country that is not part of the Schengen Zone. While it does save a lot of time and hassle, there is a slight downside to it. All those European passport stamps you planned on accumulating during your travels… yep, you guessed it – not going to happen. I was actually really disappointed on my first backpacking trip to Europe when I finally realized I wasn’t getting stamped every time I entered a new country!

History lesson: Schengen is a small town in Luxembourg, and is located on the border, near Germany and France. The Schengen Agreement was originally signed near the town, hence the name.

Which countries are part of the Schengen Zone?


  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovak Republic
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Which European countries are not part of the Schengen Zone?

  • Albania
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Georgia
  • Ireland
  • Kosovo
  • The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Moldova
  • Montenegro
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Serbia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • the United Kingdom

Do I need a visa to enter the Schengen Zone as a U.S. Citizen?

No, you don’t! As long as you’re a U.S. citizen with a valid U.S. tourist passport (blue passport), and you plan on traveling for tourism or business related reasons, you are allowed to stay in the Schengen Zone for up to three months. If you’re not from the U.S., you’ll have to check what the rules are for your country.

So I could travel around France for 3 months, and then Italy for 3 more months?

No. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. You are allowed to travel around all of the countries located in the Schengen Zone for a total of 3 months. After 3 months, you gotta get out! (That doesn’t necessarily mean out of Europe. It just means out of the Schengen Zone.)

Hope that clears things up!


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About Devon Nicole

Hey! My name is Devon. I'm a 20-something girl from the sunny state of Florida, USA. In 2012, I made the scary decision to backpack Europe SOLO. Now it's 3 years later and I've traveled to over 30 countries in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia! I created this blog to inspire other young women to travel abroad solo too. There's a whole world out there just waiting to be explored!

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