The Schengen Cooperation
The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 by the the Governments of Germany, France and the Benelux states, i.e. Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The Schengen cooperation is named after a small town in Luxembourg which lies on the banks of the Moselle river, on the border of France and Germany, where the Agreement was signed. Iceland signed an association agreement on participation in the Schengen cooperation in December 1996, along with Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
The Schengen cooperation mainly consists of two elements. On the one hand, the abolition of internal border checks in the Schengen Area and, on the other, compensatory measures consisting primarily in practical cooperation between European police forces to ensure the safety of citizens in the Schengen Area. The main objective of the abolition of border control at the internal borders of the Schengen states is to facilitate the free movement of persons across the European Union, free movement of persons being one of the four freedoms of the internal market of the EU which Iceland became a party to through the EEA Agreement in 2003.
The daily enforcement of the Schengen cooperation in Iceland is mostly in the hands of the Ministry of Justice, the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, the country’s police jurisdictions and the Directorate of Immigration. The role of the Ministry of Justice mainly concerns overseeing the cooperation, coordination and surveillance/supervision, as well as the implementation of new Schengen acts. In addition to the aforementioned parties/bodies, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Icelandic Coast Guard, the Icelandic Data Protection Authority and Registers Iceland also participate to a certain extent in the Schengen cooperation.
What is the legal status of third-country nationals in the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Agreement allows individuals who reside legally in the Schengen Area to move freely within the territory without any border checks when crossing internal borders. This not only applies to the citizens of those states but also third-country nationals. Thus, third-country nationals that are in possession of a valid residence permit in a Schengen state as well as a valid travel document can travel within the area without any additional requirements.
Who needs a Schengen visa to enter the Schengen Area?
The citizens of third countries that have not entered into an agreement on visa liberalization with the Schengen states are required to have a valid Schengen visa in their travel document in order to enter the Schengen Area. The visa grants permission to enter the territory of a Schengen state and stay there for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. A visa is issued, for example, for tourists, family visits, official visits, business visits and study visits. A third-country national that holds a residence permit issued by another Shengen state is exempt from the visa requirement.
Which rules apply to visas and where can you apply for a visa?
A harmonised Schengen visa is issued by all Schengen Area Member States.. This visa is valid for visits to all Schengen states. It is therefore not necessary to apply especially for a visa to Iceland, except for in cases where Iceland is the main destination of the visit. The Schengen states issue visas in their embassies and consulates around the world.
In order to travel to Iceland, the citizens of about 126 states need visas. Iceland does not have the capacity to open embassies in all those states but participation in the Schengen cooperation created an opportunity to expand considerably Iceland’s services regarding the issuing of visas. Thus, it was possible to negotiate with other Schengen states (representing states) on the issuance of visas on Iceland's behalf. Only two of Iceland’s embassies issue Schengen visas, i.e. the embassies in Moscow and Peking. In addition to that, the Icelandic Foreign Services has concluded agreements with other Schengen states in about 120 cities around the world.
- Information on the website of the Directorate of Immigration about where to apply for a visa to Iceland
Always bring your passport!
Although travelers traveling within the Schengen Area are not subject to border control including passport checks it is recommended that people always carry their passport when traveling. It is required of everyone traveling within the area to be able to present a valid ID recognised by other Schengen states. At the moment, the Icelandic passport is in fact the only ID which is with certainty recognised by other states as a valid ID. Airlines in the Schengen Area can also require passengers to present their passports.
The Schengen cooperation does not affect rules on residence and work permits in Schengen states!
Although individuals are not subject to border control when they travel between Schengen states this does not have any effect on the applicable rules on the legal requirements for longer stays or work permission in the country. Therefore, individuals intending to stay for more than three months in a Schengen state must acquaint themselves with the rules applicable in the relevant country on longer stays. Otherwise, after the visa has expired, the individual is considered to be staying illegally within the Schengen Area.
Schengen does not affect customs control procedures within the Schengen Area!
Rules on customs checks at borders between Schengen states did not change when the Schengen Agreement entered into force. Everyone that travels to Iceland from a Schengen country are therefore subject to traditional customs control at Keflavik Airport or in ports in Iceland.