With the passage to the “new normality”, after the hard months of Covid-19 lockdown, many of us cannot resist the temptation to travel again. People who love to discover new places were desiring the end of the mobility limitations to plan a trip somewhere. And since for many people travelling supposes to visit a foreign country, the opening of national borders was the last awaited step.
Being based in Spain, we are directly concerned by the mobility situation in the European Union and we are happy to know that the countries of the Schengen zone are gradually reopening their internal and external borders and we hope to be able to travel again as usual.
As European citizens, we are so used to our freedom of movement within the Schengen area that we probably underestimate its real meaning. Indeed, the possibility to freely travel without borders represents a big advantage compared to the reality of third countries, and today this is more than ever true.
What is the Schengen zone?
Created in 1995, with the abolition of passport controls inside this zone, the Schengen area is one of the pillars of the European project.
It recognizes the free movement of persons as a fundamental right for EU citizens, enabling them to travel, work and live in any EU country without special formalities. EU citizens can cross internal borders without being subjected to border checks.
Nowadays the Schengen space includes 26 countries: all the EU countries (except for five: Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania) and 4 countries from outside: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
We talked about the benefits of travelling and doing an experience abroad for young people in our articles The best way to learn, it’s to travel! and Good reasons to have an International Experience abroad.
Advantages of travelling within the EU
As it is easy to understand, the freedom of movement provided by the Schengen zone is a big advantage for EU citizens who can freely move from a country to another. If you haven’t still figured out which these advantages are, we share with you 5 Advantages of travelling within the EU.
1. Border-free zone
The Schengen zone abolishes controls at internal borders, while harmonising and reinforcing protection of the area’s external borders. Once inside the Schengen area, people can travel from one country to another without being subjected to border checks. The border-free Schengen area guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, as well as to many non-EU nationals, businessmen, tourists or other persons legally present on the EU territory.
All EU citizens can stay in another EU country as a tourist for up to 3 months with a valid passport or identity card. Also they can live in another member state for work, with the right to be treated in the same way as nationals of that country. Also entrepreneurs benefit from freedom of establishment and students have the right to study anywhere in the European Union.
2. Travel documents simplification
If you are an EU citizen, you do not need to show your passport when you are travelling from one border-free Schengen EU country to another. It’s enough to bring your ID national card in order to prove your identity, if needed. On the contrary, when travelling to or from a non-Schengen country you must show a valid passport. Remember that driving licences or bank cards are not accepted as valid travel documents or proof of identity in many countries. Check this page to know what is a valid ID card/passport in your country.
Furthermore, the EU has established a common visa policy for citizens from non-EU countries, who are required to hold a visa when travelling to the Schengen Area. It is a short-stay visa issued by one of the Schengen States that entitles its holder to travel throughout the 26 Schengen States for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Visas for visits exceeding that period remain subject to national procedures.
3. Eurozone common currency
Although all EU countries are part of the Economic and Monetary Union, only 19 EU countries have replaced their national currencies with the European single currency: the euro (they are also known as the eurozone countries, check here the complete list).
The benefits of the common currency are immediately obvious to anyone travelling abroad: there is no risk to pay more than you had planned because of the exchange-rate fluctuations, since the euro eliminates the fluctuations of currency values across EU borders. As a consequence, there is more price transparency: you can easily say if a price in one country is better than the price in another, so you can more easily spot a good or a bad deal. Finally, forget about transaction costs: this is particularly helpful for travellers who cross several borders during the course of a trip. Before, you had to exchange your money any time you entered a new country and the costs of all of these exchanges added up significantly, while now with the euro, no exchanges are needed within the Eurozone countries and you can bring the money you don’t spend back home.
4. Public healthcare for EU nationals
Thanks to the European Health Insurance Card EU citizens have the right to access to medically necessary, state-provided healthcare while they are in any of the 27 EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, under the same conditions and at the same cost (free in some countries) as people insured in that country. It is a free card issued by each national health insurance provider that guarantees healthcare cover only during a temporary stay in another EU country: if while travelling you need medical assistance, you can address to any public hospital and receive (in most cases free) assistance by showing your card.
Remember that the European Health Insurance Card is not an alternative to travel insurance, it doesn’t cover your costs if you are travelling for the express purpose of obtaining medical treatment, and it doesn’t guarantee free services (as each country’s healthcare system is different).
5. Unlimited crossing borders possibilities
Last but not least, the lack of borders within the Schengen zone means that you can freely move from an EU country to another during the same trip or even during the same day, without need of national entry permissions or controls.
Can you imagine how amazing it could be booking a multi-cities flight to visit more than one countries during the same trip? What about to have a road trip or an Interrail and improvising a stop somewhere? Do you live nearby your national border and want to have a city walk on the other side of the border, just for one afternoon?
All this and more is possible for EU citizens thanks to the right of freedom of movement within the Schengen area. Have you ever thought about it? As a traveller, have you ever realized the luck of being an EU citizen? Have you ever travelled to a third country and experienced the difficulties of crossing the Schengen borders?
Next time you arrange a travel, remember all these advantages: you will realize how lucky we are with respect to past generations or citizens from non-EU countries when it comes to travel and to freely move for tourism, working or study purposes.