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Air and Sea Travel Within the EU Made Passport-Free for Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania from March 2024

Citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, members of the European Union (EU), will no longer need a passport to travel to most of the other EU countries as of March 31, 2024. The Council of EU governments announced this news on December 30, 2023. Along with the EU countries, the above facility will be extended to those traveling to Norway and Switzerland too. The discussions to lift land borders too will be continued in 2024. The free movement of Bulgarians and Romanians across the Schengen is expected to expand travel, trade and tourism and also boost the internal market.

Expansion of the Schengen Area:

The Schengen zone consists of 23 nations out of the 27 in the European bloc. It also includes Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. The European Commission had agreed on both Bulgaria and Romania joining the Schengen area without internal border controls in 2011. Since then, both countries have efficiently demonstrated their suitability for membership. Thereafter, three fact-finding commissions by the EU and a pilot project in 2022–23 and March 2023, respectively, re-confirmed the exemplary external border management by both countries. All these projects ensured swift asylum-granting and return procedures.

For the last few years, the European Union has worked towards creating an architecture that would protect the Schengen area without any internal border control. Ample reforms in the fields of security, judicial cooperation, and police have been carried out to prevent any internal or external threat to the security of the EU. A new governance model, an annual cycle of reporting and monitoring, and a new evaluation mechanism have also been introduced in this light. The Schengen, as a result, has become stronger and more resilient.

Welcoming the news of Bulgaria and Romania’s entry into the Schengen area, European Commission president von der Leyen said: “Today marks a historic moment for Bulgaria and Romania. And a day of great pride for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens. As of March, they will be able to freely cross internal sea and air borders without border controls. This is a major step forward for both countries and for the Schengen area as a whole. Congratulations to Bulgaria and Romania: this great achievement is possible thanks to your hard work, commitment and perseverance. Thanks to you the Schengen area will become even stronger to the benefit of all EU citizens.”

This is the ninth enlargement of the Schengen area which is the world’s largest common area without any internal border control. It is reflective of the mutual trust and unity among member nations of the EU on which Schengen was based and built. After including Bulgaria and Romania, the Schengen area will extend to 4.5 million square kilometers enclosing a population of 450 million.

The European Commission said in a statement that Bulgaria and Romania will be provided financial support and Frontex assistance to manage external border concerns. Meanwhile, the pilot projects developed by the EU would be worked on and converted into more structural reforms.