Bulgaria and Romania formally join the Schengen area

The Schengen area, the largest geographical zone permitting free movement in the world, has officially welcomed in two new members: the Black Sea neighbours of Bulgaria and Romania. 

The two European nations, which were integrated into the European Union on the same date – 1st January 2007 – now share a new page in their histories. 

On 31st March 2024, they formally became the newest members of the Schengen area, the world’s largest common area without internal border controls.

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As such, Schengen rules will now apply in both of the EU Member States, including those on issuing Schengen visas, and controls at the internal air and sea borders will be lifted in the near future. 

According to a statement released by the European Commission on 30th March, “Since last December, both Member States have taken all necessary measures to ensure a smooth application of the Schengen rules as from 31st March 2024… Romania and Bulgaria will further contribute to strengthening the cooperation on border and migration, as well as to the joint European efforts to address EU security at external borders and migratory challenges. Furthermore, a regional initiative on police cooperation [has been] established between Member States along the Western Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean routes, including Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, Greece, Hungary and Slovakia. This will allow [these nations] to address related challenges jointly and in a sustainable manner, including cross-border crime.” 

Bulgaria and Romania are understood to have been in compliance with “all requirements to be fully part of the Schengen area” since 2011 so this integration has been long awaited for the Black Sea neighbours.  

“Together, we are building a stronger, more united Europe”

The day before the two nations’ official integration, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said, “Tomorrow marks an important day: Bulgaria and Romania join the Schengen family. I welcome the lifting of internal air and sea border checks. This is a great success for both countries and a historic moment for the Schengen area – the largest area of free movement in the world. Together, we are building a stronger, more united Europe for all our citizens.” 

The Schengen area guarantees free movement to more than 425 million EU citizens, as well as non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU as tourists, exchange students or for business purposes on a visa.

It dates back to an intergovernmental project between the five Member States of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Netherlands that was launched in 1985. Today it includes all EU Member States, excluding Cyprus and Ireland.

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Photo source: Bulgarian countryside, Hristo Sahatchiev