Sometimes it is difficult to find the right information, but everything is somewhere on the EU website. Wikipedia also has a good summary. Some embassies or government websites of the different Schengen countries also provide useful summaries. Legally, the main source of all this is the Schengen visa code.
Here is a step-by-step guide through the rules to decide if you need a visa:
1. Are you flying inside the Schengen area?
If your next destination is in the Schengen area, you must go through passport control to get to that flight, so you need a regular Schengen visa unless you qualify for entry without a visa.
If you go somewhere within the Schengen area and already have a visa issued by that country, this visa also allows you to enter the Schengen area at a point of call in a different member country.
2. Can you enter the Schengen area?
If you can enter the Schengen area, you can also transit there. You can enter the Schengen area if you are an EU / EFTA citizen, you have a Schengen visa, a long-term visa or a residence permit from one of the Schengen countries, or you are a citizen of a country whose citizens do not need a visa to visit the Schengen space. If any of these apply, you can stop here, you don't need a visa. If none of these apply, read more.
The list of countries whose citizens do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area can be found on Wikipedia. They are also colored green on this map of the EU Commission.
3. Can you transfer without leaving the international airport area?
Many airports in Europe have an international area with transfer / check-in counters, waiting area, sometimes lounges, restaurants, shops or even a museum. prior to the border checkpoint where the police check the passports of passengers entering the Schengen area. Doors can be accessed for non-Schengen destinations from this area, while domestic and Schengen flights depart from other parts of the airport.
If you can transit without leaving this area, it will depend on your specific connection (airport / terminal, airline, time). For example, some German airports close at night, so it is not possible to stay in the international area for an overnight transfer. Luggage belts are typically after the passport check, so if your luggage cannot be billed to a destination outside the Schengen area, you will also have a problem.
Finally, since passenger passports do not have to be checked on flights inside the Schengen area, if you have two stops in the Schengen area (for example, Mumbai-Vienna-Frankfurt-Chicago or Nairobi-Zurich-Frankfurt-Chișinău), you be You have to leave the international area and go through the border control point to take your flight into Schengen. The same if you need to change airports.
If you have to leave the international area to make your transfer, you cannot transit without a visa and you need a full Schengen visa (and no simply an "airport transit visa"). If you can stay in the international area ("transit zone"), read on.
4. Do the citizens of your country require a visa to travel by air?
If it has come this far, it means that it comes from a country whose citizens require a visa to get in The Schengen space. But there is still a distinction between two categories of countries between them. While most people can travel by air without a visa, citizens of a smaller list of countries need an “airport transit visa” even if they don't want to go through the border checkpoint and enter the Schengen area .
Where things get complicated is that the list of countries whose citizens need an airport transit visa is slightly different from one Schengen country to another. There is a list for the entire Schengen area (list on Wikipedia, dark red / burgundy on the EU map), but individual Schengen member states can also add countries to the list. They have to inform the Commission, which maintains a list of all these requirements (current PDF list, see also the same Wikipedia article).
If your country is not on any of these lists, stop here, you do not need a visa. On the other hand, if your country is on one of the lists (the general list of Europe or that of the country where you will be traveling), you may need an "airport transit visa", but read on as there are some exceptions.
5. Are there other rules that could allow you to transit without a visa?
If your transfer requires a transit visa at the airport, there may still be a way to travel without a visa since the Schengen Visa code establishes a series of exceptions for people who have other visas or residence permits. Note that these exceptions only apply to airport transit visa requirement. If you need to enter the Schengen area (see question 2), these exceptions do not apply.
Specifically, you are exempt from the airport transit visa requirement if you have a valid visa from an EU country (that is the entire EU, not only the Schengen area, but also Ireland, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia ), Canada, Japan or the United States of America. Germany also recognizes this exemption for travelers returning from any of the previous countries, even if their visa has expired, but must check with the country through which they are traveling, because this exemption is not explicitly mentioned in the Schengen codes.
You are also exempt if you have a residence permit from one of these countries or from Andorra or San Marino. If that is your case, you are exempt even if you don't travel to this country.
If you have such a visa or residence permit, you can travel without a visa, regardless of your citizenship or your destination. If you do not, you will need a visa.
In addition, if you have just used the visa (so that it is no longer valid but has recently expired), you can still transit without a visa in the Schengen area for the return trip. This rule does not fit very well to US visas. UU. Because it is possible to remain legally in the USA. UU. Long after your visa expires.
Schengen regulations stipulate that holders of expired US visas may transit in the Schengen Area without a visa if they return from the United States after using the visa; however, check-in employees may exercise an excessively cautious interpretation regarding US visas. UU. expired for a prolonged period of time and, consequently, deny boarding.
As such, in this case it is highly recommended to obtain a written confirmation from the ground assistance staff at the departure airport well in advance, or request an air traffic visa for the Schengen Area.
6. Can I get this visa upon arrival?
No, You can not. There are provisions for single-entry visas of 15 days upon arrival in limited cases (mainly sailors, relatives of EU citizens and emergencies), but it is not a common practice in Europe. If you need a visa, the airline / ground assistance staff at your departure airport will want to see you (they can be fined if you transport it without checking) and you will be denied boarding if you do not have the right to transit at the relevant airport (s) )