Bulgaria in Air and Sea Schengen: Questions and Answers

EU | March 31, 2024, Sunday // 10:42|  views

Photo: Stella Ivanova

Bulgaria has joined the Schengen area for free travel, but initially only by air and sea routes. This entails the elimination of border controls for air travel among member countries of the agreement. Here are some key questions and answers for travelers regarding this development:

What is Schengen?

The Schengen Area is a zone comprising 27 European countries that have abolished passport and other types of border controls at their mutual borders. This allows for the free and unrestricted movement of people within the area, similar to domestic travel. Established in 1995, the Schengen Agreement represents one of the most significant achievements of European integration, facilitating travel, trade, and cultural exchange among its member states.

Which countries are part of Schengen?

The Schengen countries consist of all EU member states except Cyprus, which still maintains border controls, and Ireland, which is not part of the Schengen zone. Additionally, countries in the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) are also part of the Schengen area. Bulgaria and Romania to partially joined this group on March 31.

What changes when I arrive in a Schengen country?

Upon arrival in a Schengen country, travelers departing from Bulgaria will not undergo document checks at the airport of arrival. Instead, they will proceed directly to the baggage claim area and exit the airport without any interruption for border control. However, if they are connecting to a non-Schengen destination, their documents will be inspected upon exiting the Schengen area.

What changes if I arrive from a Schengen country?

The primary difference is that upon arrival from Schengen member states, there will no longer be a verification process for personal documents of all citizens. However, for passengers arriving from non-Schengen destinations, the border check procedure before retrieving checked baggage will continue unchanged.

What will be checked if I travel to a Schengen country?

For travelers heading to a Schengen country, the traditional border control process at airports is no longer necessary. Previously, this involved a physical inspection of identity cards or international passports by the Border Police at designated counters. With the elimination of this control, carrying an international passport may no longer be required. Previously, passengers often used their passports to expedite the process through machine checks at both Bulgarian and international airports. However, this practice is no longer needed. Nonetheless, passengers traveling to destinations outside of the Schengen area will still undergo passport control as usual.

Who checks boarding passes?

As previously, passengers will have their boarding passes checked before entering the airport departure area. This check is conducted before the screening for prohibited items in passengers' belongings and hand luggage. At Sofia airport, boarding passes, whether printed or displayed on mobile devices, are now verified through machines, eliminating the need for staff to manually check them.

What about the luggage?

Irrespective of the departure point, the luggage inspection process remains unchanged. Checked baggage is deposited at the designated counters as usual. Both manual and physical checks of passengers continue to be conducted as before.

For arrivals from Schengen countries, passengers will be directed straight to the baggage claim and airport exit. This streamlined process involves separating passenger flows at international airports, such as Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, and Varna.

What happens if I travel with a child?

After March 31, a parent accompanying their child without the other parent will not be required to present a notarized declaration of consent for the child to travel abroad. This aligns with the standard practice within the Schengen area. Nonetheless, it's important to note that the absence of verification does not exempt the child from needing their international passport to travel abroad. When obtaining the passport, consent from both parents is still necessary, indicating their agreement for the child to travel within the Schengen area.

Are there any Schengen countries with border controls?

Under the Schengen Code, which regulates the Schengen area, border checks within the Schengen countries can be temporarily reintroduced as a last resort. Currently, eight out of the 27 Schengen countries have implemented such checks, either partially or entirely, on their borders with other Schengen nations:

  • Germany: Border checks are enforced with Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland due to migration pressures.
  • Austria: Controls are in place with the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, and Slovakia to manage secondary movements of migrants.
  • Italy: Border checks are conducted with Slovenia.
  • Slovenia: Controls are enforced with Croatia and Hungary to address illegal migration.
  • Denmark: Checks are carried out with Germany due to terrorism concerns and espionage related to European insecurity following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Norway: Controls are implemented on all ferry connections with Schengen countries due to risks to critical infrastructure and intelligence activities.
  • Sweden: Border checks are conducted on all borders due to the threat of Islamist terrorist groups.
  • France: Controls are in place on all borders due to terrorist threats.

Germany has announced plans to bolster and extend border controls during the European football championship.

What doesn't change?

The process of passport and visa control remains unchanged for passengers traveling to non-Schengen countries. Airport officials emphasize that the processing times will remain consistent with previous procedures.

Border checks are still applicable when traveling by car. For instance, identity document verifications continue for individuals crossing the borders with Greece and Romania, both upon exiting and entering.

It's important to note that Schengen membership does not eliminate the requirement for citizens to carry valid identity documents.

What does entering Schengen "by sea" mean?

The European Commission has specified that the term "entering Schengen by sea" is not accurate, as border checks along rivers remain in place. This includes crossings of the Bulgarian-Romanian border along the Danube, as river borders are considered part of land borders. Consequently, passengers and crew arriving by sea from Bulgaria to Romania (or vice versa) on a vessel originating from any other Schengen country will be considered as traveling via intra-Schengen sea transport.

More information about sea Schengen read here.

Will Bulgaria issue Schengen visas?

As a participant in the agreement, Bulgaria will be responsible for issuing Schengen visas to individuals from third countries. This implies that if a foreign national arrives in Bulgaria holding such a visa, they will have the liberty to travel freely throughout the Schengen area. However, there is an exception for citizens of the Russian Federation, as there are nations that do not recognize their Schengen visas issued by another country.

In September 2022, the EU terminated its visa facilitation agreement with Russia, and the visa issuance practices among Schengen countries vary significantly, encompassing differences in required documents and visa types for tourist travel.

Four countries—Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland—ceased issuing visas to Russian citizens after these visas were utilized by Russian nationals as a means to enter the Schengen Area. Additionally, in December 2023, Finland closed its entire shared border with Russia due to heightened migratory pressures from the Middle East.

The Baltic states and Poland do not permit Russian nationals holding short-stay Schengen visas (for tourism, sports, cultural events, or visiting friends) to enter, regardless of the issuing Schengen country.

Additionally, from 31 March 2024 there will be no change for those traveling to and from the UK.

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Tags: Schengen, Bulgaria, visa, travel


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