Europe is a continent that is small but has many independent states. Under normal circumstances, travelling through multiple states should mean having to go through visa applications, passport control multiple times. However, by entering through any of the member states of the Schengen zone, you will generally be able to access any of the other member states without going through passport control checkpoints again. Similarly, by having a Schengen visa, you do not need to apply for visas to each of the Schengen member states separately/individually hence saving time, money and paperwork.
Countries of the Schengen Zone include 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. Microstates Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City are not part of the Schengen Area and have differing formal relatioships with it, but they all have open borders with neighbouring Schengen countries and can be legally entered with a Schengen visa. Andorra has no formal agreement with the Schengen Area and maintains permanent border controls, but issues no own visas. Instead, Andorra also accepts a Schengen visa. Therefore, if you enter the territory of Spain, France, or Italy (depending of course on what microstate is your destination), you can enter each of these countries as well. The most notable example of an EU non-Schengen member is the United Kingdom.
Holders of any European Economic Area (EU, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein) or Switzerland passport do not need a visa for the Schengen area, and are generally allowed to stay for as long as they want.
In general, if your nationality needs a Schengen visa for either business, tourism or family visits, you usually will need to procure the following documents (specific requirements vary slightly per embassy and jurisdiction so check with the embassy where you're applying at for the specific requirements), and you will often need one set of original copies and one set of photocopies per applicant:
Completed application form (the form can be downloaded from the website of the embassy concerned) and some member states may also request you to fill-out an additional form. Parents will need to sign the application form of minors whether they will accompany them or not.
Passport with at least two blank pages, which must be valid for at least three months from the day you return
Residence permit (if you are not a citizen of the country you are applying) which must be valid for at least three months from the day you return.
passport-sized ID photograph (please check the website of the embassy you are applying to determine how the photo should look like)
copies of previous Schengen visas (if previously issued)
€60 for most applicants
€35 for children at least 6 years old but younger than 12 years old and nationals of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and Moldova
free for children 5 years old and below, spouses and minor children of EU nationals as well as pupils/students accompanied by teachers on a school trip
The fees are usually payable in the local currency equivalent (the exact/actual amount will be specified by the embassy concerned).
If the embassy/consulate outsources the administrative aspects of the application to a third party (eg, to VFS), then a fee may be charged by these third parties in addition to the above fees.
Minors who are travelling alone (or with an adult who is not a family member) and in some cases with only one parent may need to secure a permit to travel form or its local equivalent from local authorities in their home or resident country signed by the parents or legal guardian who is not accompanying the minor. This requirement depends on the local laws.
Proof of socio-economic ties and finances
Employment certificate and recent payslips (if employed), or enrolment certificate/letter from institution (if a student). As much as possible, they should state the period in which you are allowed to go on holiday. In some cases, if you are unemployed or a dependant on someone else financially, you will have to procure an affidavit of support and/or a declaration form.
Bank statements covering the last 3 months prior to the application. The specific amount required to be in the balance depends on the member state whose embassy you are applying at (typically €40-60 per day per applicant on your party plus enough to cover unpaid ticket costs, accommodations, pre-booked tours). In case you do not have a bank account, traveller’s cheques might be accepted by some (but not all) embassies. Cash is unacceptable but that is also for your security anyway.
Proof of travel arrangements
Confirmed transport arrangements .
Confirmation of accommodation arrangements. If you intend to stay with friends/relatives, they may need to course their invitation through local authorities, fill-in official paperwork and post it to you.
Official letter/invitation from organisers/sponsors, if you are on a business trip or conference.
Travel insurance that covers at least the entire Schengen Zone for the duration of your trip and at least €30, 000 in emergency treatment and medical repatriation.
Additional requirements for spouses and children of EU nationals only
copy of passport of the EU national
marriage certificate (for spouses)
birth certificate with the name of the EU national parent (for children)
other proofs of relationship as may be requested by the consulate
Please do not give your only copy of the above-mentioned documents as the copies you submit to the application centre will not be returned to you (except the passport of course).
The application form may have an option of whether you want a single or multiple entry visa. However, the latter is rarely granted for first-time visitors and not all countries (notably the Netherlands) grant it at all unless you can demonstrate that in between two Schengen states, you intend to visit a non-Schengen country.