The Schengen visa is a cornerstone of seamless European travel. This unified visa policy grants visa-free movement between twenty-six Schengen member states and has revolutionized tourism and business travel, fostering closer ties and economic cooperation across the continent.
In a significant step towards streamlining the visa application process, the European Union has approved the digitization of Schengen visa applications. This digital transformation will replace paper-based applications with an online system, offering greater convenience and efficiency for applicants. Around 18 million people are expected to benefit from this digitalized system.
Citizens of over 60 countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, are generally exempt from obtaining Schengen visas for short-term stays. However, starting in mid-2025, these individuals must register online for pre-approved entry under the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), akin to the ESTA system used by the United States and the UK’s ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization).
Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming changes and how to navigate them. Let’s jump in.
What is the Schengen area?
The terms Schengen Area and European Union are often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct entities. The Schengen Area comprises 26 European countries that have abolished internal border controls, allowing for visa-free movement for citizens and non-citizens of these nations. It extends beyond the European Union, encompassing non-EU members like Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
In contrast, the European Union (EU) is a political and economic alliance of 27 countries. While most EU members belong to the Schengen Area, there are exceptions. For instance, Ireland and Cyprus maintain their own border controls and require visas for non-Schengen citizens. Notably, the UK is not a Schengen Area or an EU member and has its own border control rules.
If you plan to relocate to a Schengen country for work or study, a Schengen visa is not enough. You will need to obtain a specific visa for the country you intend to reside in, such as a work visa or a student visa.
Applications for a Schengen visa are becoming digitalized
The European Council has approved new regulations allowing the Schengen visa process to be carried out online; changes are expected to begin in 2026.
Once the new digital system is in place, people applying for short stays in the Schengen area will be able to upload documents, data, and electronic copies of their travel documents with biometric information and pay fees, all through an online platform. Applicants will also receive notifications on their visa decision – whether their visa has been approved or rejected. This digital shift promises to revolutionize and simplify the European visa application process, matching countries and regions already using a digital immigration system, such as the US.
Here are some of the significant changes we can expect from the new digital Schengen visa:
An expedited visa application process
The transition to an online application system will significantly expedite the visa application process, reducing processing times and eliminating the need for physical submissions. Applicants will also no longer need a stamp on their passport. This streamlined approach will not only save applicants valuable time but also alleviate the administrative burden on consular offices and other service providers.
Improved accessibility with round-the-clock access for applicants
The digital platform will provide round-the-clock access to the application portal, meaning applicants can initiate and complete their applications at their convenience. This flexibility will particularly benefit individuals in diverse time zones, enabling them to navigate the process without the constraints of office hours or geographic limitations.
Safeguarding sensitive applicant information
The digital platform will incorporate robust data security measures to safeguard sensitive applicant information compared to physical documents that are often emailed securely. These measures will include encryption protocols, multi-factor authentication, and access controls, ensuring that personal data remains protected throughout the application process. The online system will also include advanced fraud detection mechanisms to identify and flag suspicious applications.
If an applicant is approved, they will receive a cryptographically signed barcode to print off or store in a device after database cross-checks. However, some first-time applicants or travelers with a new passport or changed biometric data may still need to attend an in-person appointment.
Once up and running, the system will record the applicant’s details and biometric data along with their travel entry and exit date, keeping track of overstays and refused entries.
Lex Documents is your trusted partner for Schengen visa assistance
The digitization of Schengen visa applications marks a significant step forward in streamlining travel within Europe. With this digital transformation, applicants can expect a more efficient, user-friendly, and secure application process. As a tech-savvy immigration document and global business travel company, Lex Documents is ready to support applicants through this transition.
Our expert team is committed to providing comprehensive support for Schengen visa applications, from document procurement to application and interview support, even as the process transitions to a digital format.
Contact us to learn how our globally connected service can help you with your visa and documentation needs, ensuring a smooth and successful application process