What is the Schengen Area and what European countries are included?

Mar 12, 2020

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On Wednesday, President Trump unveiled new travel restrictions for foreign nationals coming from most European countries in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus. While the restrictions were first believed to be from all of Europe, the White House and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed the new rules apply only to foreign nationals coming from the Schengen Area as of midnight on Friday, March 13.

So, what does this all mean?

What is the Schengen Area?

In the Schengen zone, internal border checks are mostly a thing of the past. This area of 26 European states have largely done away with passport checks along their mutual borders, and the zone comprises a single jurisdiction, with a standardized visa policy, for the purposes of international travel. Just don’t confuse the Schengen zone with the European Union itself, or the EU Customs Union for that matter. Some countries, such as Switzerland, do not belong to the EU but are part of the Schengen area, while others (like Cyprus) are not part of the Schengen area but are members of the EU.

While the Schengen Area doesn’t include all the European nations, all of the countries within the Schengen Area are in Europe.

Related: Everything you need to know about the U.S. European travel ban

The Schengen Area includes the following 26 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 and Switzerland.

(Image courtesy of the EU)
(Image courtesy of the EU)

Notably missing from the Schengen Area are the United Kingdom and Ireland. As a result, foreign nationals originating in those countries will still be permitted to travel to the United States so long as they haven’t visited any country in the Schengen Area in the past 14 days.

Related: Complete guide to traveling during the deadly coronavirus outbreak

In addition to the U.K. and Ireland, the following European countries are also not members of the Schengen Area: Albania, Andora, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and Vatican City.

Who is affected?

According to the DHS, the travel restrictions do not apply to “legal permanent residents, (generally) immediate family members of U.S. citizens and other individuals who are identified in the proclamation.”

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However, if a U.S. citizen is looking to return to the country after visiting a Schengen Area destination, they will be subject to screening. While the White House and DHS haven’t released specifics on how the restrictions will be implemented, American Airlines’ website gives us some clues as to how it may be enforced.

Prior to boarding any American Airlines flight to the U.S., all passengers will be asked if they have visited a country within the Schengen Area, Iran or mainland China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) within the past 14 days. If so, the approved passenger — a U.S. national — must enter through an approved airport. Foreign nationals who answer yes will be denied permission to travel to the U.S.

Related: Which airlines are offering the most flexibility for travelers affected by the coronavirus

According to American, the following airports are “approved entry points” for eligible passengers who have traveled to the Schengen Area, Iran or mainland China within the past 14 days:

  • Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii (HNL)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City (JFK)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. (IAD)

For travelers who are not set to travel to one of the approved airports, American Airlines said it will reroute the passenger.

The White House could ultimately expand this travel restriction to include the U.K., Ireland and other European countries not already banned. For the time being, however, if you’re a foreign national — or a U.S. citizen — who has traveled in Europe and not stepped foot in a Schengen Area country in the past 14 days, you’ll still be able to travel to the U.S. All others, however, will be subject to additional screening (if a U.S. citizen) or not be allowed to travel at all.

Featured photo by kardan_adam/Getty Images.

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