What’s left to do for Croatia to join Schengen?
Croatia first applied for European Union membership in 2003 and, notwithstanding ongoing border disputes with Slovenia, became its latest member on July 1, 2013. While officially a member of the EU, Croatia is still not a member of Schengen. Finally, after 9 years as part of the continental block, Croatia seems to be on the way to becoming the most recent member of the open border zone.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovi expects his country to enter the Schengen area in the second half of 2024, also claiming that there is a possibility that Croatia will join the Eurozone at the same time. However, European officials have yet to set a date for Croatia’s official admission to the Schengen zone.
The main issue for European institutions seems to be the long and complex border that Croatia shares with two of its neighbors: Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. This border makes it hard for Croatian officials to control and curb illegal immigration from these non-EU countries into its territory. Croatia has vowed to strengthen and invest in border security to solve this problem and follow European practices. Specifically, Croatia has increased the size and scope of its border police force, which will work together with European officials to curb illegal immigration from the Western Balkans into the Schengen area.
Is Schengen part of the European Union?
Formally, the EU and the Schengen area are not synonymous. Nonetheless, these two overlap and remain closely related.
The European Union consists of 27 members states, including Croatia. On the other hand, the Schengen area consists of 26 members, including non-EU member states Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. Five EU member states do not participate in the Schengen area: Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Ireland, with the first four working to join (the situation for Ireland is more complex given their border and ties with the UK, a former EU member). Three micro-states (Vatican City, San Marino, and Monaco) are considered de facto members, even though they formally have not signed the Schengen agreement.
Practically, the Schengen area is independent of the EU and based on its own agreement stipulated in 1985. Most EU members (22) are also part of Schengen; therefore, entering the Schengen area is usually synonymous with entering Europe. The new mandatory visa ETIAS waiver will harmonize border practices and the pre-screening process across the 26 Schengen members from its implementation in 2023. Any traveler looking to enter a Schengen country will be required to apply for ETIAS, complete the ETIAS form, and wait for the approval.
What is ETIAS, and how will it impact travel to Croatia?
The ETIAS visa waiver is a new system of pre-screening that will go live at the end of 2022 and be mandatory from 2023. ETIAS requirements include a passport, a valid email address, and enough funds to pay a minor fee. Other than that, it takes less than 10 minutes to apply for ETIAS.
Citizens from visa-exempt countries (such as American citizens, Canadian citizens, Australian citizens, Argentinian citizens, etc.) will need an ETIAS to travel to Europe starting from 2023 (after the 6-month grace period ends). Practically, foreign passengers will need to get authorization from ETIAS before traveling to Europe.
Note that ETIAS is not a visa and therefore cannot be used to get a long-term study or work in Europe. Also, note that obtaining an ETIAS and presenting it at the border does not guarantee your entry to Europe – border officials will have the last say and may require additional documentation from the traveler.