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EU: Romania and Bulgaria join Schengen area by air and sea

March 31, 2024

The Schengen zone, which allows travel in Europe without border controls, has welcomed the two new countries. But the welcome is limited to air and sea routes only.

A Bulgaria Air plane at Frankfurt Airport
Passengers flying from Bulgaria and Romania to other Schengen-zone countries will no longer need visasImage: Sorge/Caro/picture alliance

More than a decade after joining the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria joined — at least partially — most of the rest of the bloc's members in the  Schengen zone on Sunday.

Travelers are now able to move between the two Eastern European countries and the rest of the EU without the need for passing through border control when traveling by sea or air.

Due to a veto by Austria, however, land routes are not included due to fears that it would enable non-EU migrants to more easily enter other EU states.

"This is a great success for both countries," President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday.

"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 is comprised of 23 of the other EU member states — excluding Ireland or Cyprus — along with non-EU states Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Push for full Schengen inclusion

Romania has said that it will carry out random checks to guard against false travel documents and to combat human trafficking.

The two countries hope to become full members of the Schengen area by the end of the year. Even Croatia, which joined the bloc after Romania and Bulgaria, was accepted fully into the Schengen area in January last year.

Croatia adopts euro and borderless EU travel

Romanian Interior Minister Catalin Predoiu told Romanian news site News.ro on Sunday: "Our efforts to also join [Schengen] with land borders is continuing on multiple diplomatic channels.

Truck drivers have been pressuring their governments to secure visa-free travel across land borders with their European neighbors to beat the long queues that they currently face.

Romania's main road transport union UNTRR said the average wait at the Hungarian border was 16 hours.

"Romanian hauliers have lost billions of euros every year, just because of long waiting times at borders," secretary general Radu Dinescu said.

Bulgarian businesses have also expressed their dismay, with Vasil Velev of the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA) pointing out that "only 3% of Bulgarian goods are transported by air and sea, the remaining 97% by land."

Correction from April 3, 2024: A previous version of this article stated that the Schengen area allows visa-free travel — but Schengen is about removing border passport controls, people from Romania and Bulgaria could already travel to the rest of the EU visa-free. The article also incorrectly stated that all other members of the EU are in the Schengen area, but Ireland and Cyprus are not. Both mistakes have now been corrected. We apologize for the error.

ab/rm (AFP, AP)