Although under normal circumstances it is possible to travel throughout the European Schengen Area without internal border control, in certain circumstances, member states may consider it necessary to reinstate frontiers.
This is currently the case as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. In order to protect the population, Schengen border controls have been put in place as an exceptional time-limited measure.
As a result of the health crisis, Schengen Area countries have made the move to reintroduce border checks. This temporary measure is considered to be an effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, confirmed that internal border checks were necessary during the current situation.
He stated ‘it seems the virus doesn’t stop at borders’ and, therefore, the best way to curb the spread from one European country to another is to carry out border checks once again.
Coronavirus: Temporary Schengen Border Controls
Travelers in Europe should be aware of the following controls now in place to help manage COVID-19. All border checks are temporary and will be revoked as soon as possible once the pandemic is under control.
- Austria: land borders with Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein until 7th April
- Belgium: all internal borders March until 19th April
- Czech Republic: land borders with Austria and Germany, air borders until 4th April
- Denmark: all internal borders until 12th May
- Estonia: all internal borders until 15h April
- Finland: all internal borders until 3rd April
- France: all internal borders until 30th April
- Germany: land & air borders with Austria, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. Sea border with Denmark until 15th April
- Hungary: land borders with Slovenia, Austria, and Slovakia, all air borders until 11th April
- Lithuania: all internal borders until 7th April
- Norway: all internal borders until 15th April
- Poland: land borders with Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Lithuania, sea borders & air borders until 24th March
- Portugal: all internal borders until 15th April
- Spain: all land borders until 11th April
- Sweden: all internal borders until 2020
- Switzerland: all air borders except those with Liechtenstein until 4th April
- Air borders with Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Austria until 17th April
- Land borders with France and Austria until 15th April
Member states can take the decision to reinstate border checks, although the Commission can offer its opinion on the matter, ultimately it is down to the individual Schengen Area countries to decide whether frontiers would be beneficial at any given moment.
The situation will be reviewed on the date specified and a decision will be made as to whether controls remain a necessity or can be lifted.
What do Border Checks Mean for Travelers?
Under normal circumstances, Europeans and non-Europeans are able to cross the border from one European Schengen nation to another without undergoing border checks.
Non-European visitors require a Schengen Visa whilst those from countries which fall under the visa liberalization program will soon be required to apply for an ETIAS for Europe to move around freely.
However, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, only essential travel to the EU by non-European nationals is permitted. This means that it is not possible to cross the external borders into the European Union except under exceptional circumstances.
Those already in the Schengen Area will face checks at border crossings. This does not mean that the border is closed, controls are simply in place. There may be long queues at some borders as people wait to have their documents checked.
An exception is in place for lorries to ensure food, medicine, and other essential items continue to move around the area quickly.
Does the EU entry ban affect UK citizens?
Despite being in the transition period of leaving the European Union, it has been made clear that UK citizens will not be banned from entering the EU during the health crisis.
Travelers from the United Kingdom will, however, be subject to the internal border checks detailed above and will be required to provide the authorities with their documentation.
The History of Border-Free Movement in the Schengen Area
The Schengen Agreement was signed in June 1985, paving the way for the eradication of internal borders between 26 European countries.
The Schengen Area celebrated its 25th anniversary in March 2020: the first borders were abolished by France, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain in 1995.
Since then, the Schengen Area has grown to what we recognize today, facilitating travel between the European nations and promoting freedom of movement.
As the situation regarding COVID-19 develops, member states will continue to make adjustments to best deal with the pandemic. Border controls will remain in place as long as it is in the interest of public health.
Travelers in the Schengen Area are advised to take the necessary precautions and follow international guidelines to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.