Bulgaria and the Schengen agreement – myths and reality

the Schengen area
"She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom" - Nathaniel Hawthorne

What you need to know about the Schengen agreement if you hold Bulgarian passport (or are considering applying for Bulgarian citizenship)

A lot has been written about the Schengen agreement, the abolishment of border checks between the Schengen countries (often confused with the right of free movement) and the infamous Schengen Visa. But at the same time, the core idea of the Schengen area agreement is poorly understood and this has led to a lot of confusion, even among the citizens of the EU and the Schengen countries.

In this article, we will only briefly explain what the Schengen area agreement is all about. There is a lot of information on the topic available on the internet, so we will not waste the reader’s time by only repeating the well known facts. We will rather emphasize on facts that are in particular important for Bulgarian passport holders, as well as other facts that are being largely misunderstood by the public and by our customers (and poorly, or even not covered at all in the media).


The stuff that you probably already know

map of the Schengen countries Map of the Schengen countries (in "blue") and the four EU countries that are not members of the Schengen area (in "red") The Schengen area consist currently /April 2018/ of 26 countries (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) that have agreed to abolish border checks at their mutual borders. Four EU countries, namely Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania have not yet signed the Schengen agreement, although, they are legally obliged to do so in future. The Schengen countries share common visa policy, meaning that they are issuing the same type of visa (a.k.a. Schengen visa), which is valid for all Schengen countries. In other words, if a foreigner obtains for example a German (a Schengen country) visa, he can also travel to all other Schengen countries as well (as well as to other countries, more on that later in the article). This is also quite logical, as should that not have been the case, with the lack of border controls, a foreigner who enters one of the Schengen countries could be hardly prevented to enter the other states.

The abolished border controls are also enforced at the airports, meaning that flights between Schengen countries are being handled through dedicated terminals so the passengers can go directly to collect their luggage and exit the airport without any border controls.

It is worth mentioning that from time to time, during large political or economic events for example, the Schengen countries are temporarily suspending the agreement, due to security reasons, and are applying border checks at their mutual borders. Also, random border checks, although very rarely, can be carried out from time to time at some borders within the Schengen area.

You can find tons of valuable information on the Wikipedia page about the Schengen Area.


And the facts that you might not be aware of

We will start with some common misunderstandings about the Schengen agreement, which are widespread not only among the non-European citizens, but also within the community of the EU and the Schengen countries.

The first delusion - Schengen stands for freedom of movement - WRONG!

This is probably the most widespread misunderstanding about the Schengen area agreement. From the 26 members of the Schengen area (not counting the dwarf countries – Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City), 22 are EU countries and 4 are non-EU states. The unrestricted and unconditional freedom of movement (travel and residence) however is applied to all Schengen countries plus the remaining 4 EU countries – Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. Often citizens of the EU non-Schengen countries falsely believe that they have limited living or residency rights when compared to the citizens of the EU Schengen countries – this is absolute nonsense.

Conclusion: The Schengen area agreement is not an agreement for free movement. It is an agreement for abolishing the border checks on the mutual borders between the Schengen states. Not withstanding the above, all Schengem states plus the 4 non-Schengen EU countries (Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania) apply unconditional free movement rights for all their citizens, however this is mainly as result from the EU core agreements rather than from the Schengen agreement (for the non-EU Schengen states).

The main delusion - the Schengen agreement has anything to do with the traveler’s citizenship – WRONG!

Probably at least 99% of our clients firmly believe that the Schengen agreement targets the people by their citizenship. This is completely wrong. The Schengen agreement doesn’t make any difference form someone holding passport of a Schengen country and a citizen from a third country. The Schengen agreement targets and applies different regimes only to the territories (countries), NOT to the citizens!

Conclusion: The Schengen agreement doesn’t differentiate the travelers based on their citizenship. In other words for example, with regard to the Schengen agreement, a German (Schengen country) citizen who is located within the territory of Bulgaria (non-Schengen EU country) will be treated absolutely the same as the Bulgarian citizens in Bulgaria. The same applies to a Bulgarian citizen who is located within the territory of Germany; he will be treated absolutely identically as the German citizens in Germany.

So having said all that, will there be any difference for you, as Bulgarian citizen (or a candidate for Bulgarian citizenship), when Bulgaria joins the Schengen area agreement? Or to put the question differently, are there any drawbacks for you as Bulgarian citizen, while Bulgaria has not yet become member of the Schengen area?

The short answer is NO !

Still, in order to be completely accurate, we have to differentiate between whether:

  • You are residing in a Schengen country;
  • You are residing in non-Schengen country, namely in Bulgaria.

As the Schengen agreement is not applied to the citizenship of the person, but to the countries as territories, in case you are holding Bulgarian (or any other EU) passport and are living in a Schengen state, it makes absolutely no difference for you whether you are citizen of Bulgaria or any other EU Schengen country. You will have the same unlimited freedom of movement and settlement and you will be not subject to border checks.

In case you are living (or staying) within the territory of Bulgaria, while Bulgaria has not yet joined the Schengen area agreement, you will have some really minor "inconveniences" to deal with. Please note that the freedom to travel, reside, work, etc. in all EU and Schengen country is not undermined in any way. So, the "inconveniences", if they can be seen as such, are:

  • When traveling to or from Bulgaria, you will be asked to produce your Bulgarian ID card or your Bulgarian international passport at the border;
  • If you own or are renting private jet for personal use and are flying from Bulgaria to a Schengen country, you will be not allowed to land on airports with "Schengen only" terminal facilities.

The border checks don’t usually take more than 20 seconds to complete and in most cases even less. The border officers usually only glance at the EU travel document and with a wave of the hand allow the traveler to pass through. We don’t believe this to be an obstacle at all, as it takes less time than it takes to make a selfie. The fact that one has to carry an ID card (or passport) in order to cross a non-Schengen border is in no way an obstacle, as ID documents need to be carried within the EU at all times anyway (with few countries as exception).

The second obstacle, about the private jet landing airports, although quite exotic, is more of a hurdle than the border checks. Imagine you would like to fly with your private jet from Sofia to a small and cozy town on a Greek island. So far so good, but if that tiny airport is only servicing flights from the Schengen area countries and there are no border check facilities, then you will be not allowed to land there. For some, mainly the rich Bulgarians, this is an important argument of why Bulgaria should join the Schengen agreement a.s.a.p.