Bulgaria and Romania to enter the passport-free Schengen area

by Catherine Carey | February 6, 2024
Passport visa euro for Schengen area

From March 31st on, Bulgaria and Romania will be partially admitted to the Schengen area. Air and sea border air controls between Bulgaria, Romania and the existing Schengen Member States will be lifted. Land border checks will continue to remain in place.

Controls for the two countries will be eased in 2024, although they have been members of the European Union (EU) since 2007. As they were not part of the border-free area, travelers had to show passports upon entry in Bulgaria and Romania and the other Schengen area countries. 

Do I need a passport to enter Romania and Bulgaria?

If you are a citizen of a Schengen member country and are traveling by air or sea, you will no longer need to show your passport upon arrival in either country.

If you arrive by train or drive to Romania or Bulgaria and need to cross a land border, you will still need to show your passport. Land borders are still in place and rules governing land borders in this new scenario have not been established due to a veto by Austria.

When will land borders disappear? 

A date for the lifting of land borders between Romania and Bulgaria and other member states, has not been announced. Land border controls will remain until they become full Member States.

Why have air and sea border controls disappeared?

Bulgaria and Romania have been in this process since 2011. The Commission first confirmed that both were ready to become part of the Schengen area without internal border controls in 2011, but since then they have just continued to demonstrate that they fulfill the conditions for becoming Schengen members. 

In March 2023, the Commission initiated pilot projects with both nations to enhance external border management, foster collaboration with neighboring countries, and streamline asylum and return procedures.

Schengen area membership will enhance travel, commerce, and tourism while bolstering the internal market and economy. With approximately 1.25 billion journeys made by Europeans annually within the Schengen area, the tourism and cultural sectors stand to gain significantly from this integration.

What is the Schengen area? 

The Schengen area is an area without internal border controls. It started in 1985 and has gradually expanded to become the largest free travel area in the world. It allows more than 400 million people to travel freely between member countries.  

The Schengen area includes: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Citizens of member states can travel to one another country without being submitted to checks at their internal borders or showing passports when crossing borders. 

The area is also a positive thing for those non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting as tourists, students and more. They can travel through the Schengen countries without going through border controls. Those travelers transiting through or wanting to stay in the Schengen area for a short period, there are common visa rules to follow. 

Remember if you don’t have EU citizenship your stay in Bulgaria and Romania cannot be longer than 90 days in 180 days. This is also true for any other Schengen area country.