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Traveling to Newly Schengen-Enlisted Romania and Bulgaria: What You Need to Know?

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In 2024, Bulgaria and Romania will join the Schengen area. What will be different for travellers?

Romania and Bulgaria will become members of the Schengen area on March 31, this year, allowing 400 million people to travel freely between its member states. Since 2007, both countries have held membership in the European Union (EU), yet because they were not integrated into the border-free zone, travellers were obligated to present passports upon arrival. In 2024, the border procedures for these nations will undergo streamlining.

Here are the essential details regarding the alterations that travellers to Romania and Bulgaria should be aware of if travelling there.


Is a passport necessary for entry into Romania and Bulgaria?

When Romania and Bulgaria become part of the Schengen zone this year, accessing the two countries will become simpler for travellers. The interior ministries of both nations declared in December that certain border inspections would be eased. Travellers arriving by air or sea from other Schengen zone countries will no longer be required to present passports upon arrival. This implies that passengers on flights, cruises, and ferries will be exempt from checks. The European Commission stated, “Controls at internal air and sea borders between Bulgaria and Romania and countries of the Schengen area will be lifted as of 31 March 2024.”

However, if you are entering Romania and Bulgaria by driving, train, or bus, you will still need to carry identification, as regulations concerning land borders have not yet been established. This delay is attributed to a veto exercised by Austria.


Which European nations permit entry without a passport?

Croatia became the most recent addition to the Schengen zone in 2022. Annually, 1.25 billion journeys occur within this region, with 3.5 million individuals crossing the borders of its member nations daily. Excluding Romania and Bulgaria, the Schengen zone encompasses 27 states. Twenty-three are EU members, while four are associated states of the European Free Trade Association: Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. The inception of the Schengen Area dates to 1995, after the signing of the Schengen Agreement a decade earlier among five member states of the European Economic Community: Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Numerous subsequent agreements ensued until the 2007 enlargement, which saw nine additional countries incorporated into the free movement area. Non-EU citizens travelling should note that stays in Bulgaria and Romania are considered part of their time within the Schengen zone, which must not exceed 90 days within 180 days.


Why is this important?

Romania's aspirations to join the Schengen area have been ongoing since its EU accession, with expectations of membership as early as 2023. October 2023 have seen Bucharest overcoming longstanding opposition from the Netherlands. The former mentioned had previously resisted Romania's inclusion, citing concerns over the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) and issues regarding judicial reform and corruption. However, Romania's efforts to address these concerns led to a shift in the Dutch stance, culminating in the start of the process to exclude Romania from the CVM. Despite this progress, Vienna unexpectedly vetoed Romania's accession, citing concerns over illegal border crossings, a move that has been met with strong criticism from Romanian officials.

Conversely, Bulgaria also faced hurdles in its Schengen aspirations. It responded in 2023 with more subdued disappointment to the EU's decision. Despite efforts to improve border protection and combat illegal migration, Bulgaria's accession has been further complicated by ongoing issues with reforms and border security, particularly along its border with Turkey. 



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