The Tourist Visa
The Tourist Visa: Staying in Spain and the Schengen Area
The most up-to-date guide on the Schengen tourist visa, category C on the web, and for those traveling to Spain in particular.
The Schengen visa
The Schengen visa, category C, also known as a standard tourist visa for Europe, is a short-term visa that allows you to travel to stay in, and travel freely within the Schengen-area countries as a tourist, student, or business person for up to 90 days. (In this article we will only concern ourselves with category C of the Schengen visa, which is intended for short stays, unlike the category A, which is an airport transit visa intended for brief stop-overs at airports for people of certain nationalities, etc.) Note that the Schengen visa does not allow you to reside, work, or be self-employed in Spain or any of the Schengen-area countries. Those activities are governed by separate visas and legislation.
The Schengen visa gets its name from the Schengen acquis, which commonly refers to the sum of two international agreements (the 1985 Schengen Agreement and the 1990 Schengen Convention) and the related European Union laws and regulations made possible by the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1999. The Schengen acquis concerns itself with the free movement of persons and provides shared rules regarding short-stay visas, the absence of internal borders, shared rules for external borders, and the creation of the Schengen Information System database (SIS), as well as customs, judicial, and police cooperation and the sharing of information in order to combat trafficking, fraud, illegal immigration, and other crimes.
Making things a bit more complicated is the fact that being part of the Schengen area, being bound by the Schengen acquis, and/or being part of the European Union are not the same thing with regard to the Schengen visa. But I’ll explain more about this later.
Who needs to apply for a schengen visa and who doesn’t need one?
You do not need to apply for a Schengen tourist visa to travel to Spain and the Schengen area if you meet the following conditions:
1. You have a valid passport or travel document.
2. You plan to stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days.
3. You are a passport holder of one of the following countries: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Holland, Honduras, Hong Kong and Macao (China), Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, or Venezuela.
(Note that EU citizens do not need a visa to travel anywhere within the Schengen area, and neither do their official family members, i.e. spouses, when in possession of a valid residence permit from a Schengen member country, excluding permits from Ireland or the UK, at the moment.)
If you meet the three conditions listed above, then you are exempt from the visa requirement, though you are considered as if you were in possession of a Schengen tourist visa when you enter the Schengen area. Exceptions include being deemed a “threat to public policy or national security” to any Schengen-area country or having earned the dubious honor of being banned from the Schengen area as recorded in the Schengen Information System database (SIS). However, even though you don’t actually need to apply for the Schengen tourist visa, as a short-stay traveler without additional authorization you must still abide by the limitations of the Schengen visa (i.e., the maximum length of stay).
If you are planning to stay in the Schengen area for less than 90 days, but you are a passport holder of a country on the following list (or if you do not currently have a country or are a national of a non-recognized country), then you will need to go ahead and apply for a Schengen tourist visa: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central Africa, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoro Islands, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Granada, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Northern Marianas, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Palestinian National Authority, Papua-New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Western Samoa, Yemen, Zambia, or Zimbabwe.
If you are a national of a country that does not appear in this section on the two lists of countries, then please check with your nearest embassy or the Spanish consulate or Schengen-area country regarding your particular visa requirements.
If you are not a citizen of a European Union country AND you plan to stay in Spain and/or anywhere in the entire Schengen area for more than 90 days in any 180-day period, then you will need a work, residence, long-term, and/or other type of visa (depending on what you plan to do).
Last but not least, no matter what your nationality is, if you already hold a valid residence permit with a Schengen member country (except for residence permits issued by Ireland or the UK), then that is automatically considered equal to a Schengen visa (which is only valid up to 90 days) when traveling to other Schengen countries, but you will still need to carry a valid passport or travel document issued by the country where you hold citizenship.
What are the schengen-area countries? Where is the schengen visa valid?
For the purposes of the Schengen tourist visa, the current Schengen area is composed of 26 countries. That’s 22 European Union countries – Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden – in addition to two associated countries, Norway and Iceland.
The Azores and Madeira, as part of Portugal, and the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands, as part of Spain, are included in the Schengen area. Ceuta and Melilla – Spain’s autonomous cities in northern Africa – are a special case: they are part of the Schengen area, but border control is still in force there. France’s overseas possessions, on the other hand, are considered to be outside of the area.
Ireland, the UK, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Romania are all members of the European Union and the Schengen acquis. However, Ireland and the UK have reserved the right to only subscribe to certain provisions and do retain their own border controls. Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Romania, on the other hand, do plan to fully participate in the Schengen area, but this has not been implemented as of yet.
Can I leave and enter the schengen area more than once?
You can indeed leave and re-enter the Schengen area, but make sure to keep in mind how long the Schengen visa is good for. However, if you are not exempt from applying for the Schengen visa (see Who needs to apply for a Schengen Visa and who doesn’t need one? for more information on this), then you must have originally requested a two-entry or multiple-entry Schengen visa in order to leave and re-enter the Schengen area.
Where can I apply for the schengen visa?
If you’re planning to travel to Spain and no other Schengen country on this trip, you must apply for the Schengen visa at your nearest Spanish embassy or consulate. For trips involving several Schengen countries, apply at the embassy or consulate of the country in which you will be spending the most amount of time. And for trips involving several Schengen countries in which you will be spending an equal amount of time or if you don’t have a primary destination, then apply for the visa at the embassy or consulate of the country you’ll be going to first.
How long is the schengen visa good for?
The Schengen tourist visa is good for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. This means that if you enter and exit the Schengen area with a Schengen visa, the time you spend outside the Schengen area is not counted toward your maximum of 90 days only as long as you do not exceed the maximum of 90 days in ANY 180-day period.
To further clarify in the case of those exempt from needing to apply for the Schengen tourist visa, exiting the Schengen area does not “restart” or “renew” the Schengen visa or the 90-day maximum stay limit. This is only the case if you have been outside of the Schengen area for a minimum of 90 days (e.g., three months in and three months out).