Customs and border protection are costly in time and resources for countries, and an unpleasant part of most international traveler’s journey. However, some countries have chosen to “enlarge” their borders by allowing travelers to enter combined territories under one visa. This practice enhances the efficiency of border control and reduces the cost of border protection for all the countries included in the open-border region. Below we will discuss the three most prominent common borders in the world today and how to get visas for them: the Schengen states, Central America-4, and East African Community.
Schengen area consists of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. These countries share a common legal border wherein a traveler may use the Schengen visa for entry and stay in any or all member states. Open border countries within the Schengen area, i.e. Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City, do not require a separate Schengen visa for entry so a traveler can also access these countries once they are in the Schengen area. The Schengen visa is valid for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.
Please note that the Schengen Area does not encompass every European Union country. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom are excluded from the Schengen region. It also does not include other European (non-EU) countries: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine. Depending on the traveler’s nationality, a separate visa application must be submitted for these non-Schengen countries if a visa is needed for entry.
How to apply: The Visa Adviser® App provides country-specific visa requirements and application procedures based on the nationality of the traveler in just a few clicks! If you do not have access to the app, you can start with your destination country’s embassy website. For instance, if you are going to Paris and later Berlin, then apply for the Schengen visa with France. The country’s Consular Services section typically provides short-term visa information, forms, requirements, and filing procedures. Application for the Schengen visa requires a biometric submission (fingerprinting of the applicant), so applicants need to appear in person at some point during the process.
Central America C-4 encompasses El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The C-4 visa is valid for a period of 90 days. While the C-4 region was designed to allow the free movement of nationals from the participating countries, travelers from outside this country group are also permitted to use a single visa to access all four countries, given a visa is needed to travel to any of the countries in the C-4 block. For instance, if you are from China visiting San Salvador, you may apply for a C-4 visa through El Salvador, and have access to the remaining three countries for a period of 90 days.
How to apply: Travelers should submit their visa applications with the first country of entry in the region. You can start with the Visa Adviser App. The Android mobile app is free to download to do a visa check. Otherwise, travelers should start by visiting the country’s embassy website, which normally has a consular services section. Make sure you actually need a visa, and whether you need to apply in person or by mail, before you apply.
East Africa Community visa encompasses Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. Like the Schengen and C-4 visas, the East Africa visa allows nationals from outside of these countries to travel within these three countries under one visa. Foreigners wishing to travel to the included countries for tourism purposes may acquire an East Africa Community visa at any of the diplomatic representations of Kenya, Uganda or Rwanda, at the immigration offices of the respective countries, or online where applicable.
How to apply: You might be able to apply online, on arrival, by mail, or in person, depending on your nationality and which country you choose to enter. If you enter through Rwanda, you might be able to get a visa upon arrival while, if you enter through Kenya, you may be able to apply online for your visa. If entering through Uganda however, you must submit your application online.
Honorable Mention: APEC Card allows a class of qualified business and government travelers to use one card to enter all APEC member states. Please see our article on the APEC card for additional information about the application process. Currently, the APEC member states include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Vietnam.