By now you may have heard about the new buzzword in international travel – the Schengen Visa – and you probably have wondered what it is all about and even asked why it needs to concern you.

The Schengen visa is a “visitor visa” which is issued to citizens of countries who are required to obtain a visa before entering Europe.

The visa is named after the Schengen area comprising 25 European countries of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The area is named after the Schengen Agreement of 1985 made near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg which abolished borders among the member states.

Some countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland are part of the European Union but do not belong to the Schengen area while others like Norway and Iceland, are not part of the European Union, but are part of the Schengen area following a cooperation agreement signed with the Schengen States.

The Schengen Visa, as their website says, has made travelling between these countries much easier and less bureaucratic. Travelling on a Schengen Visa means that the visa holder can travel to any (or all) member countries using one single visa, thus avoiding the hassle and expense of obtaining individual visas for each country. This is particularly beneficial for persons who wish to visit several European countries on the same trip.

Note, however, that the purpose of the visit must be leisure, tourism, or business and that is why it only allows a traveller a maximum of 90 days within this area in a 6-month period. It is therefore strongly recommended that you plan your journey within the time frame of the Schengen Visa. You can extend it if you want but this can be very difficult to obtain.

There are 3 categories of the Schengen Visa:

1. Short-stay Schengen Visa

The short-stay visa is the most common Schengen visa. It entitles travellers, subject to the visa requirement, to enter the territories of the 25 Schengen States to pay a continuous visit or several visits within the stipulated 90-day period in any half-year from the date of first entry. The short-stay visa can be issued for either a single entry or multiple entries and has a period of validity not exceeding 5 years.

The single-entry visa allows one uninterrupted stay for up to a maximum of 90 days. A grace period of 15 days of validity of the visa is normally added to the number of days of authorised stay, should the visa holder wish to postpone his or her departure.

The multiple-entry visa allows several stays on the territory of one or several Schengen States, provided that the total length of the visits does not exceed 90 days in any half-year from the date of first entry. The stay may be continuous or spread over several periods within the validity of the visa. The multiple-entry visas are issued with a period of validity between 6 months and 5 years, for travellers providing sufficient guarantees.

2. Schengen Transit Visa

The transit visa allows travellers who are going from one non-Schengen State to another non-Schengen State to pass through the territories of the Schengen States. This visa may be issued for one or several transits. The length of the authorised stay will correspond to the time necessary for the purpose of the transit.

3. Airport Transit Visa (ATV)

An airport transit visa is required from certain travellers to go through the international transit area of airports, without actually entering the national territory of the country concerned, during a stop-over or transfer between two stages of an international flight. The requirement to have such a visa is an exception to the general right to transit without a visa through the international transit area.

So Who Needs a Schengen Visa?

All Kenyans wishing to travel to Europe will require a Schengen Visa to access the Schengen area. Other countries that are subject to these visa requirements to enter or transit in the Schengen area are as follows:

Afghanistan, Guinea, Peru, Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, Philippines, Angola, Guyana, Qatar, Armenia, Haiti, Russia, Azerbaijan, India, Rwanda, Bahrain, Indonesia, Samoa, Bangladesh, Iran, Sao Tome And Principe, Belarus, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Belize, Jamaica, Senegal, Benin, Jordan, Sierra Leone, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Solomon Islands, Bolivia, Kenya, Somalia, Botswana, Kiribati, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Burma/Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, St Lucia, Burundi, Laos, St Vincent & The Grenadines, Cambodia, Lebanon, Sudan, Cameroon, Lesotho, Suriname, Cape Verde, and Liberia.

Swaziland, Central African Republic, Libya, Syria, Chad, Madagascar, Tajikistan, China, Malawi, Tanzania, Colombia, Maldives, Thailand, Comoros, Mali, Timor-Leste, Congo, Marshall Islands, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire, Mauritania, Tonga, Cuba, Micronesia, Trinidad And Tobago, Dem. Rep. Of Congo, Moldova, Tunisia, Djibouti, Mongolia, Turkey, Dominica, Morocco, Turkmenistan, Dominican Republic, Mozambique, Tuvalu, Ecuador, Namibia, Uganda, Egypt, Nauru, Ukraine, Equatorial Guinea, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Niger, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Vanuatu, Fiji, North Korea, Vietnam, Gabon, Northern Mariana’s, Yemen, Gambia, Oman, Zambia, Georgia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Palau, Grenada, and Papua New Guinea are the others in the list.

Travellers from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ghana, Pakistan, Congo (DRC), Iran, Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq and Sri Lanka are additionally subject to the airport transit visa requirement by Schengen countries.

Have you used a Schengen Visa in your travels? What was your experience like compared to other visas you have used?