Schengen changes may cause travel chaos

  • 2001-03-29
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - From March 25 people traveling outside Estonia must take into account a new time difference from Finland and the widening of the Schengen territory, which may cause confusion and be time consuming.

Estonia - unlike Finland and Latvia - did not turn its clocks forward on March 25. Planes and ferries to Finland will be leaving one hour earlier.

The inclusion of Scandinavian countries in the Schengen area also causes a number of changes. Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden all abolished visa and border procedures pursuant to the Schengen Agreement on March 25, 2001.

The Schengen area now comprises all the European Union member states except for the United Kingdom and Ireland.

However, according to the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the widening of the Schengen area to the north will not bring along any great changes to Estonian citizens, because Estonia has already concluded an agreement that ensures free movement of people within all Schengen countries.

"These are some small technical changes, but in general nothing has changed," said Taavi Toom, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The agreement ensures that passengers can travel between the Schengen states without having to show their passports every time they enter an EU country. They have to show it at the first border they enter.

Estonian citizens can stay without a visa in all 15 Schengen countries for a maximum of 90 days for no more than six months following their entry into the area. To stay for a longer period they should acquire a visa or a residence permit.

According to Ants Puusepp, spokesman for the Finnish Embassy in Estonia, the 90-day limit applies to the entire Schengen area and may cause problems to businessmen and sportsmen who travel a lot in this region.

People living in Estonia with a foreign passport still need a visa. The same applies to people from third countries, from Russia or Ukraine for example.

Puusepp said that people with a "gray passport" - those with a third-country passport - should apply for one visa when entering the Schengen area from the embassy of their country of destination.

The conditions for issuing visas are basically the same for all these countries. Puusepp said that a passenger with a visa also has to have travel insurance, which was not obligatory before.

The travel agency Estravel warned its clients last week about the need to spare time for transfers at Schengen airports, because passengers may have to use different zones.

Juri Toomel, marketing manager at Estravel, said that problems might occur in Stockholm, where passengers may need a bus to take them from one terminal to another.

"In Helsinki one does not need a bus," said Toomel. He said that as the agreement has been valid only for a short time no one knows exactly what to expect.