With centuries of art, culture and history, Europe is the most popular continent for travel. While many people dream of planning a trip to Europe, there are few things to know before booking your flight. There is Europe, and then there is the European Union (EU), which is not the same. You need to follow several EU travel rules, especially when it comes to different countries in Europe.
While all EU members are countries in Europe, not all European countries belong to the EU. Some countries are partially in Europe while others are not independent countries at all. Confused yet? It gets more complicated, but I’ll break it down for you to make it easier.
This post may contain affiliate links which means this website may earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. More information in DISCLAIMER.
How many countries are there in Europe?
While answering how many countries are in Europe should be an easy answer, it is, in fact, complicated. The answer depends on who you ask. According to the United Nations (UN), there are 44 countries in Europe. This is the number I’m going with for this article. The European Union gives you a different number based on its members. The real answer is between 44 and 51 countries. How does that work?
Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey are considered transcontinental countries. This means they are partially located in both Europe and Asia. While Armenia and Cyprus are politically considered European countries, geographically, they are located in the West Asia territory. It’s also important to note that not all countries recognize Kosovo as an independent country, and it’s not listed as such by the UN.
There are several other destinations that many people count as independent countries, while they are, in fact, Dependencies, meaning they belong to another country. These include Greenland (Denmark), the Faroe Islands (Denmark), Svalbard (Norway), Gibraltar (UK), Channel Islands (UK) and Isle Of Man (UK). While you might also wonder about England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, they are not official countries. All fall under the United Kingdom. Blame history for this confusing situation.
What is the European Union?
The European Union is a political and economic union of 26 member states, located primarily in Europe. The EU was not always as big as it is today. This economic cooperation arrangement was formed in 1951, with Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands as the original members. Over the years more countries joined the union and some are currently under consideration. The UK officially withdrew from the EU on 31 January, 2020.
So what’s the big deal about the European Union? Well, the arrangement offers freedom of movement for its members. This means citizens of the European countries in the EU can travel, live and work freely in any EU state. What this means for non-Europeans is that travelling to Eurozone might be tricky and not always straightforward.
What is the Schengen Zone and why you should care?
Schengen refers to the EU passport-free zone that covers most of the European countries. It’s the largest free travel area in the world. Depending on what country you are from, you might need a visa to enter the Schengen zone countries. Currently, if you are a citizen of any of these countries, you need to obtain a Schengen visa to enter the Schengen Area.
Those with Schengen visa and non-EU members who are visa-exempt can stay in the EU for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. This means that you can stay in the EU for three consecutive months, then you have to leave for three months. Unlike Asia or other parts of the world, you can’t just travel to a non-EU country for a few days and come back.
This is probably one of the most confusing aspects of travelling in Europe. Most people visiting Europe on vacation won’t likely overstay the three months. It gets trickier for those wanting to stay in the EU for longer. Some European countries offer a digital nomad visa/long term visa that can allow you to legally stay in that country. Having a temporary visa means you can travel within the EU for the duration of that visa.
While many people often choose to overstay the 90 days, I don’t recommend it. There are consequences. You can face a hefty fine, deportation or even a ban from the EU for up to 10 years. I don’t think it’s worth taking your chances.
Dreaming of EU travel? You might enjoy the What was the European Grand Tour!
EU travel: Info breakdown by country for beginners
With so many different rules around European countries, EU travel can be complicated. Here is a quick breakdown of what countries are in Europe, which ones are part of the EU and whether they are part of the Schengen Zone. I’ve also added a quick reference guide for the currency each country uses.
|Country||UN recognized as European||In the EU||EU Schengen States||Non-Schengen States||Currency|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||YES||Convertible Marka|
|Czech Republic (Czechia)||YES||YES||YES||Koruna|
|Holy See (Vatican City)||YES||Open borders with Schengen countries, but not members of the visa free zone||Euro|
|Monaco||YES||Open borders with Schengen countries, but not members of the visa free zone||Euro|
|San Marino||YES||Open borders with Schengen countries, but not members of the visa free zone||Euro|
|United Kingdom||YES||YES||British Pound|
Dreaming of European countries? You might enjoy reading Overlooked countries in Europe.
What is the Europe Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS)
ETIAS stands for Europe Travel Information and Authorization System. It was created to improve the safety of the EU for locals and visitors as a response to terrorist attacks in Europe in the last few years. The program was originally going to roll out in 2021, but it is now expected to roll out in 2022. So what exactly is it?
ETIAS is an online visa waiver for EU travel. Residents of eligible countries will be able to apply online and have to meet the visa requirements, like a passport from one of the ETIAS eligible countries. The ETIAS visa waiver authorizes travel for business or touristic purposes. It is not a substitute for a student or working visa. You’ll have to provide basic information including name, place of birth, nationality and passport number, to name a few.
EU travel – Here is what you need to know about upcoming ETIAS visa requirements.
Are you travelling to non-Schengen countries in Europe?
If you are planning a trip to Europe, the easiest thing would be to think of the EU countries as one entity with its own set of requirements. The non-Schengen countries that don’t have the freedom of movement agreement (like Russia, for example) have their own entry and visa requirements.
No matter what country you visit, there are always similar requirements. These usually include a valid passport, legitimate reason for entry and proof of valid insurance. It’s always a good idea to check the specific requirements of the countries in Europe you want to visit for details as you might have to apply for a visa to enter the country.
Final thoughts on EU travel
EU travel can be complicated. Depending on what country you are from, it can be easier or more difficult. The ease or difficulty of travelling to countries in Europe will solely depend on the passport you carry. If you happen to have dual/multi nationalities, your chances of EU travel (and travel in general) will improve.
I was really surprised how many people are not familiar with the 90/180 days rule of EU travel. Many also don’t even realize that the EU is a number of countries in Europe, not just one country. I hope that this post clears up some of that confusion for anyone planning a trip to Europe.
Got EU travel on your mind? You might enjoy the Benefits of dual citizenship.
With the UK withdrawing from the EU, travel to other countries in Europe for UK nationals will change. As I’m not a UK citizen, nor do I have the inside knowledge of the changes that will occur, I encourage all UK readers to follow the official guidelines in your country for information. I am also not able to provide you with information as to what will happen to all the EU citizens currently working and living in the UK.
We might see more countries in Europe enter the EU, which might change the travel rules in those countries. It’s always a good idea to stay on top of changing requirements, especially if you’re thinking of EU travel or visiting any other countries in Europe. It’s always better to check ahead of time than to be unpleasantly surprised once you get there. Also, I want to stress that you shouldn’t overstay the 90 days limit in the EU, no matter how tempting. It’s just not worth it.
Thinking beyond EU travel? You might enjoy What you should consider before moving abroad.