It is sometimes difficult to find the right information but everything is somewhere on the EU site. Wikipedia also has a good summary. Some embassies or government websites from different countries in the Schengen area also provide useful summaries. Legally, the main source of all this is the Schengen visa code.
Here is a step-by-step guide to the rules for deciding if you need a visa:
1. Do you fly into the Schengen area?
If your next destination is in the Schengen area, you must pass passport control to access this flight. So you need a regular Schengen visa, unless you qualify for a visa-free entry.
If you go to the Schengen area and already have a visa, this visa also allows you to enter the Schengen area at a point of call located in another member country.
2. Can you enter the Schengen area?
If you can enter the Schengen area, you can also go there. You can enter the Schengen area if you are a citizen of the EU / EFTA, hold a Schengen visa, a long-stay visa or a residence permit issued by one of the Schengen countries, or if you are a citizen of a country whose citizens do not need a visa. visit the Schengen area. If any of these cases apply, you can stop here, you do not need a visa. If none of this applies, read on.
The list of countries whose citizens do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area is available on Wikipedia. They are also in green on this map of the European Commission.
3. Can you transfer without leaving the international area of the airport?
Many European airports have an international zone with transfer / check-in counters, a waiting area, sometimes lounges, restaurants, shops or even a museum. before the border checkpoint where the police checks the passports of passengers entering the Schengen area. Gateways to non-Schengen destinations are accessible from this area, while domestic flights and flights to Schengen leave from other parts of the airport.
Whether you can transit without leaving this area depends on your specific connection (airport / terminal, airline, time). For example, some German airports close at night, so it's impossible to stay in the international zone for a night transfer. Luggage belts are usually after If you can not register your luggage in a destination located outside the Schengen area, you will also have a problem.
Finally, passenger passports should not be checked on flights in in the Schengen area, if you have two stops in the Schengen area (eg Mumbai-Vienna-Frankfurt-Chicago or Nairobi-Zurich-Frankfurt-Chişinău), you will leave the international zone and pass the border checkpoint to take your intra-Schengen flight. Same thing if you have to change airport.
If you have to leave the international zone to transfer, you can not transit without a visa. and you need a full Schengen visa (and do not "Airport transit visa"). If you can stay in the international zone ("transit airside"), read on.
4. Do the citizens of your country need a visa to transit on the airside?
If you have come here, it means that you come from a country whose citizens need a visa for enter the Schengen area. But there is still a distinction between two categories of countries. While most people can transit from the airport side without a visa, citizens from a small list of countries need an "airport transit visa" even if they do not want to cross the border checkpoint and enter the Schengen zone.
When things get complicated, the list of countries whose citizens require an airport transit visa is slightly different from one Schengen country to another. There is a list for the whole Schengen area (list in Wikipedia, dark red / burgundy on the map of the EU), but each Schengen Member State can also add countries to the list. They must inform the Commission, which keeps a list of all these requirements (current list in PDF format, see also the same Wikipedia article).
If your country does not appear on any of these lists, stop here, you do not need a visa. On the other hand, if your country is listed on one of the lists (the general European list or the list of the country in which you are going to transit), you may need an "airport transit visa", but read on. some exceptions.
5. Are there other rules that could allow you to transit without a visa?
If your transfer requires an airport transit visa, there may still be a way to transit without a visa as the Schengen visa code provides for a number of exceptions for people with other visas or permits. stay. Note that these exceptions only apply to airport transit visa requirement. If you have to enter the Schengen area (see question 2), these exceptions do not apply.
Specifically, you are exempted from the airport transit visa requirement if you hold a valid visa issued by an EU country (ie any and all EU, not only the Schengen area, but also Ireland, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia), Canada. , Japan or United States of America. You are also exempt if you have a residence permit issued by one of these countries or by Andorra or San Marino. If that's your case, you're exempt even if you do not travel to this country.
If you hold such a visa or such a residence permit, you can transit without a visa, no matter your nationality or your destination. If you do not do it, you will need a visa.
In addition, if you have just used the visa (so that it is no longer valid but that it has expired recently), you can still transit without a visa in the Schengen area for the return trip. This rule is not very suitable for US visas, as it is possible to stay legally in the United States long after your visa expires.
The Schengen regulation stipulates that expired US visa holders can transit the Schengen area without a visa if they return from the United States after using the visa. However, registration clerks may be overly cautious in interpreting US visas expired with considerable delay and, therefore, preventing you from boarding.
In this case, it is highly recommended to obtain a written confirmation from the ground handling personnel of the departure airport long in advance, or to apply for an airside transit visa. for the Schengen area.
6. Can I get this visa upon arrival?
No you can not. Single entry visas of 15 days upon arrival are provided in limited cases (mainly seafarers, the family of EU citizens and emergency situations), but this is not the case. is not a common practice in Europe. If you need a visa, the airline / ground handling staff at your departure airport will want to see it (they may be fined if they transport you without verification) and they will refuse boarding if you do not have the right to pass in transit. airport (s) concerned.