The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (2023)

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between Europe, the European Union, and the eurozone? While they all contain the word “euro” andall sound very similar, they sure are entirely different things. Many travelers confuse them. Not to mention the Schengen Area, another different concept that travelers should know about.

That last one is arguably the most important one for travelers, and it’s the one that is the least known. It was just announced that Croatia will join on January 1st (while Romania and Bulgaria were rejected).

I’m sure that if you’re like me, one of the reasons you love to travel is to learn more about our world. And you want to understand these concepts to become a fine connoisseur of all things Europe, one of the most popular continents for travelers.

So I’ll explain each of the 4 terms (and a bonus one, too), as I previously did for the United Kingdom vs. England vs. Great Britain vs. the British Isles and for the 2 Chinas, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Contents hide

The basics of Europe definitions

Impact for travelers

Closer look at the 4 terms


European Union


Schengen Area

Bonus: EEA


The basics of Europe definitions

First, here’s a brief overview of these 4 different terms:

  • Europe: A continent located West of Asia and North of Africa, with 44 to 51 countries
  • European Union (or EU): A political and economic union of 27 countries in Europe
  • Eurozone: A monetary union of 19 (or 25) countries in Europe that use the euro (€) as their currency
  • Schengen Area: A territory of abolished internal borders between 26 countries in Europe

I think Europe, the continent, should be clear for all of you. It’s a continent. It’s a purely geographic term: it’s the land, that’s all.

(Although it is the continent with the least clearly defined borders, as some include the Caucasus region in the definition of Europe while others don’t, along with other conflicting opinions on borders… but that’s a whole other topic!)

So then, what’s left is the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area. Simply put, these are 3 totally different unions—all within the continent of Europe.

To be very clear: not all European countries are in the EU, and not all EU countries are in the eurozone or Schengen Area. In fact, even some non-EU countries are in the eurozone and the Schengen Area.

In other words, countries on the physical continent of Europe can be part of the European Union, eurozone, or Schengen Area. They can be part of all 3, just 2, just 1, or even be part of none of them (looking at you, the Balkans!).

Impact for travelers

Before looking at each of the 4 more closely, let’s take a look at what they mean for travelers specifically:

  • Europe: Which continent you are visiting in and of itself means very little
  • European Union: It’s a political union and has very little impact on travelers
  • Eurozone: This means you know prices will be in euros
  • Schengen Area: This means you can travel freely without borders and there is a common visa policy

Yes, concretely, the Schengen Area is the one that matters most from a travel perspective because it means you can move between countries just like if you were moving within the same country: there are no border controls.

But be sure to double-check every country’s entry rules to see if that’s still true during the pandemic though. Even if almost all of Europe is on the list of 100+ countries that have removed all COVID-19 restrictions, now it seems that, finally, (almost) everyone has understood that you always have to look at entry rules. A very basic part of planning a trip, as it has always been.

And while the EU has long recommended to its member countries a list of restrictions and requirements to impose during the pandemic, each EU country is an independent nation that makes its own rules, so there’s no such thing as travel rules “for Europe” as a whole, unlike what a lot of people seem to believe.

Every country can have different rules, and that is something most people have now understood. But it’s true for Europe too, even if many ask us about the rules “for Europe” (which just don’t exist; it’s not a country).

Most importantly, for those who have the ambition of traveling for a longer period of time, as a Canadian, you are only allowed to stay for 90 total days in the Schengen Area within a 180-day period. Croatia was a popular spot to circumvent this, but that won’t be possible anymore.

Closer look at the 4 terms

Now let’s take a more detailed look at each one.


This is the easiest one. Surely you know what Europe is: a continent.

The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (1)

Europe covers an area of 10 million square kilometers (about 4 million square miles), just slightly more than Canada.

It has an estimated population of over 700 million people, obviously a lot more than our 38 million here in Canada.

It is the second smallest continent after Australia, but the third-most populated continent after Asia and Africa. It borders the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Arctic Ocean in the north, the Mediterranean Sea in the south, and the Ural Mountains in the east (although that Eastern border is subject to debate, as mentioned).

I won’t list all the countries here, there are so many. You can see them in the next section with the EU and non-EU split.

Europe has at least 44 independent countries, and both the largest (Russia) and the smallest (Vatican) countries in the world. It is home to more than 250 distinct languages, and there are countless spectacular historical, cultural, and natural treasures worth discovering on this continent.

By the way, we often spot very affordable flights to Europe for as low as $450 roundtrip from many Canadian cities on ourcheap flight deals page!

European Union

The European Union (the EU) is a community of 27 economically and politically connected European countries.

The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (2)

This is by far the most important of the 3 “zones” (EU, Eurozone, Schengen) on the world scene. Yet, for travelers, it’s the one that will have the least impact. A country being a member state of the EU doesn’t necessarily affect your experience traveling there, especially compared to the impact of the 2 other unions.

But let’s take a look at the details for those who are interested.

Currently, the EU has 27 member states now that Brexit has happened (the United Kingdom has left the EU, after years spent trying). So with at least 44 countries in Europe but only 27 in the EU, you might be wondering which ones aren’t part of the EU.

The most well-known (and the most visited) European countries are in the EU. So it’s simpler to say who isn’t in the EU, as I’ll do after this map of member states.

The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (3)

Here are the European countries that are not in the EU:

  • 1 country that is neutral in the middle
    • Switzerland
  • 1 country in Western Europe
    • United Kingdom
  • 2 countries in Northern Europe
    • Iceland
    • Norway
  • 3 countries in Eastern Europe
    • Belarus
    • Moldova
    • Ukraine
  • 6 countries in the Balkans
    • Albania
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina
    • Kosovo
    • Montenegro
    • North Macedonia
    • Serbia
  • 5 countries that are tiny
    • Andorra
    • Liechtenstein
    • Monaco
    • San Marino
    • Vatican
  • 2 countries that are transcontinental
    • Russia
    • Turkey
  • 3 countries often counted as part of Asia
    • Georgia
    • Armenia
    • Azerbaijan

The reasons why these countries aren’t in the EU vary greatly and are complex. To keep this post shorter, it might be simpler to tell you why the EU was created and what it means for those who are member states.

First of all, the EU has a central government that coordinates actions in many fields.

The EU is also a single internal market, which is based on the four crucial freedoms: free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. This basically means that EU citizens can live, work, and offer services anywhere in the EU, freely move their money, and sell goods without any restrictions (pretty sweet for Europeans who love to travel, huh?).

Finally, the EU was created to maintain peace. The 2 World Wars (and countless others before) started in Europe partly because there are so many superpowers in such close proximity… and they had a hard time getting along.

(You’d think politicians would get over stupid conflicts, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows that some things never change…)


This one is pretty simple too. If the country uses the euro (€) as its currency, it’s in the eurozone. Well, almost…

The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (4)

First, contrary to popular belief, just because you are traveling in the European Union doesn’t mean you can use the euro. And just because you are traveling outside of the European Union doesn’t mean that you can not use the euro either.

In other words:

  • Some EU countries do not use the euro
  • Some non-EU countries use the euro

As with everything in the travel world, many people often mix many different things together. The European Union and the eurozone are not the same.

For various reasons, 8 of the 27 EU member states do not use the euro. All, except one, are required to make the euro their currency eventually. Denmark is the exception.

Here are the EU countries that do not use the euro (and their currency):

  • 2 countries in Northern Europe
    • Denmark (krone)
    • Sweden (krona)
  • 3 countries in Central Europe
    • Czechia (koruna)
    • Poland (złoty)
    • Hungary (forint)
  • 3 countries in Eastern Europe
    • Croatia (kuna)
    • Romania (leu)
    • Bulgaria (lev)

Croatia will adopt the euro starting January 1st, in addition to joining the Schengen Area.

By the way, many travelers seem to make such a big deal about currencies while, in reality, it’s really not an issue at all when you know the tricks (just like everything else, basically). We’ll have more content on that soon to show you that you can’t stop worrying about that: wherever you go, it’s easy to get some local currency at the lowest cost, whatever it’s called! And we’ll have a great tip to save on fees to get foreign currencies in there too.

So the eurozone comprises the 19 other EU member states that use the euro, at least officially. But in reality, 6 other countries use the euro too.

The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (5)

In yellow, 4 other non-EU countries use the euro with a formal monetary agreement between them and the EU. These are 4 tiny nations only bordered by eurozone members.

They aren’t officially part of the eurozone administratively. But for you as a traveler, though, they use the euro, so it’s exactly the same as official eurozone members.

The non-EU countries that use the euro are:

  • Andorra
  • Monaco
  • San Marino
  • Vatican

In purple, 2 other non-EU countries also use the euro. But unlike the 4 yellow countries, they have adopted the euro unilaterally, without any formal agreement.

These 2 countries are:

  • Montenegro
  • Kosovo

Again, not officially the eurozone, but you use the Euro there, so it’s all the same for you.

So for travelers, concretely, the Eurozone is very useful because you can use the same currency in 25 different countries (26 very soon).

Schengen Area

Finally, the one most people struggle with. The Schengen Area is a region in Europe where there are no more internal borders, allowing free movement of people and goods.

The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (6)

It makes traveling within the continent a lot simpler, whether by plane or by crossing from one country to another overland. That means no passport checks and a common visa policy.

(Starting in November 2023, Canadians and Americans will need to apply for a “travel authorization,” essentially an e-visa, to enter the Schengen Area, so we’ll discuss that very soon!)

As a traveler, you’ll have seen the Schengen name in European airports. Depending on where you’re going or where you’re arriving from, airports (and customs lines) are separated into Schengen and non-Schengen sectors (instead of international and domestic, as is the case in most of the world).

That’s because flights within the Schengen area are essentially domestic flights since there are no borders.

For savvy Canadian travelers who get free airport lounge access, that means that just like with the transborder/domestic/international split in many Canadian airports, you need to make sure the lounges are physically accessible based on your destination.

The Schengen Area was established in 1995, and it includes 22 EU member states (so not all EU members are in the Schengen Area) and even 4 non-member states. So you can even cross from an EU country to a non-EU country without going through a border.

The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (7)

So as is the case for the eurozone, that means some EU members aren’t part of the Schengen Area.

In this case, it’s these 5 countries:

  • 2 countries that are islands
    • Ireland
    • Cyprus
  • 3 countries in Eastern Europe
    • Croatia
    • Romania
    • Bulgaria

As mentioned in the intro, Croatia will be joining the Schengen area on January 1st, 2023. The others are legally required to join eventually, except for Ireland.

The 4 non-EU members who are part of the Schengen Area are:

  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway
  • Switzerland

Without being part of the Schengen Area, 3 microstates don’t have border controls with their neighbors that are part of the Schengen Area, so it has the same effect:

  • Monaco
  • San Marino
  • Vatican

Finally, in case you are wondering about the name’s origin, it comes from the 1985 Schengen Agreement, signed in a village with that name in Luxembourg.

Bonus: EEA

Here’s a bonus, since Flytrippers loves giving you more for your money.

At passport control, you might have noticed a sign like this with the letters “EU/EEA/CH” within the round EU logo.

The difference between Europe, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Schengen Area - Flytrippers (8)

EU is simple.

So that you can go to bed even smarter tonight, CH is the official two-letter country code for Switzerland (Confoederatio Helvetica, Latin for the country’s historical name of Helvetic Confederation). Swiss websites use the “.ch” top-level domain, and their vehicle license plates have the “CH” on them.

Switzerland is not part of the EU but is part of the Schengen Area, so many countries offer CH citizens the same visa policy as EU citizens.

So what’s EEA? Well, it’s yet another structure: the European Economic Area.

I won’t go into too many details, but essentially it’s a union that allows non-EU member states to participate in the EU single market. In other words, a looser association than becoming a full EU member, mainly an economic one (without the political element).

Again, some countries will extend the same visa policies to citizens of those European countries, which is why you’ll see it on some passport control signs.

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Is the Schengen zone the same as the European Union? ›

The Schengen Area vs the EU

The area is made up of countries but not all of these are members of the EU (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein are not part of the European Union), and not all members of the EU are part of the Schengen Area, as it is the case of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

What's the difference between Europe and European Union? ›

One refers to a geographical area, the second to a political and economic union (which does not include all European countries), and the third to all countries with a single currency (which does not include the entire European Union).

Which countries are in EU but not in Schengen? ›

Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom are EU states that are not, or not yet, part of the Schengen area. This means that a flight from one of these states to a Schengen state is regarded as an external flight and is subject to border checks.

Why are some EU countries not in Schengen? ›

When the Schengen Agreement abolishing border controls was signed by EU countries in 1995, some countries secured opt-outs allowing them not to be part of the free travel area. Other countries that joined the EU at a later date did not immediately join the area, but may in the future.

Why is the EU called Schengen? ›

The name “Schengen” comes from the small winemaking town and commune of Schengen in far southeastern Luxembourg, where France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands signed the Schengen Agreement.

Which countries are under Schengen visa? ›

Germany, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland have all acceded to the Schengen Agreement and are ...

Are all countries in Europe part of the European Union? ›

Which Countries Belong to the EU? The EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

Is in the EU but doesn't use the euro? ›

In total, seven EU countries don't use the euro: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Sweden. In these countries, visitors from the eurozone still need to exchange money before they travel.

Is USA a Schengen country? ›

The Schengen Borders Agreement permits citizens from certain countries - including the United States - to travel freely to 26 European countries within the Schengen area (see list below) for up to three months for tourism or business.

Which countries can enter Schengen without visa? ›

Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Sweden: none.

Does Schengen visa cover all EU countries? ›

The countries issuing Schengen visas are: Austria*, Belgium*, the Czech Republic*, Denmark*, Estonia*, Finland*, France*, Germany*, Greece*, Hungary*, Iceland, Italy*, Latvia*, Liechtenstein, Lithuania*, Luxembourg*, Malta*, the Netherlands*, Norway, Poland*, Portugal*, Slovakia*, Slovenia*, Spain*, Sweden* and ...

How long can a US citizen stay in Europe? ›

A U.S. citizen may remain in any Schengen country (or travel between various Schengen countries) as a tourist for up to 90 days in a 180-day period without a visa.

Why is England not part of Schengen? ›

Britain was never a member of the Schengen Area of borderless travel but British citizens did have the right to freedom of movement within the EU when the country was a member. This ended when the country formally left the European Union (EU) at the end of 2020.

Why is Switzerland not in Schengen? ›

Switzerland has been a member state of the Schengen area since it signed accession in 2004, effective in 2008. Since then, it has been part of the select club that incorporates countries from the EU and others that, like Norway, are not member states, but accept freedom of transit on the continent.

What is the purpose of the Schengen area? ›

The Schengen area allows more than 400 million people to travel freely between member countries without going through border controls. On this page: What is Schengen?

Why does the Schengen area exist? ›

Free movement of persons enables every EU citizen to travel, work and live in an EU country without special formalities. Schengen underpins this freedom by enabling citizens to move around the Schengen Area without being subject to border checks.

How do I get a Schengen visa from the US? ›

To apply for a Schengen visa in the US, you need to submit the following documents:
  1. Visa application form – completely filled with the required information. ...
  2. A valid passport or Travel document. ...
  3. US residence permit. ...
  4. Photo – taken within the last three months. ...
  5. A cover letter. ...
  6. Round-trip Flight Itinerary.

Can I travel all countries with Schengen visa? ›

Yes, according to the Schengen Agreement rules, the Schengen visa is generally valid for all Schengen area countries. However, please note that you need to apply at the Consulate of the country of your primary stay or the country of the first entry.

Which of the following is the main purpose of the European Union EU? ›

The aims of the European Union within its borders are: promote peace, its values and the well-being of its citizens. offer freedom, security and justice without internal borders, while also taking appropriate measures at its external borders to regulate asylum and immigration and prevent and combat crime.

Which country is no longer part of European Union? ›

Currently, the United Kingdom is the only former member state to have withdrawn from the European Union.

Which countries are called European Union? ›

The EU's members are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

Why does England not use the euro? ›

The U.K. left the European Union (EU) on Jan. 31, 2020. As such, it's no longer a member state. But prior to its exit, it was the most notable member of the European Union that elected not to use the euro.

Why does Denmark and Sweden not use the euro? ›

Denmark has not introduced the euro. The EU Treaty gives Denmark the right to remain outside the euro area, even when all convergence criteria are met (opt-out).

Why Poland has no euro? ›

Poland does not meet 2 criteria of exchange rate stability and long-term interest rates. Moreover, Polish law is not completely compatible with the EU Treaties.

Do U.S. citizens need Schengen? ›

Do US Citizens Need an EU Visa to Enter Europe? Citizens of the United States with a valid US passport can travel to 27 European member countries of the Schengen Area for a maximum of 90 days without having to apply for or obtain a Schengen visa for short-term tourism or a business trip.

What countries do not accept US passport? ›

What countries do not accept U.S. passport? The only destination where it is forbidden for US citizens to travel to is North Korea, due to its closed border status for both US citizens and citizens of other countries.

How much is Schengen Visa for U.S. citizens? ›

The price of the Schengen Visa varies according to the age of the applicant: Adult: €80 (approx. $85) Child from 12 to 18 years old: €80 (approx.

How many countries are in the EU? ›

The European Union has 28 member countries. Click on each country to view current estimates (live population clock), historical data, and projected figures. Fert.

Why don t EU members use the euro? ›

The 8 countries choose to use their own currency as a way to maintain financial independence on certain key issues. Those issues include setting monetary policy, dealing with issues specific to each country, handling national debt, modulating inflation, and choosing to devalue the currency in certain circumstances.

Which country left the EU? ›

Brexit (/ˈbrɛksɪt, ˈbrɛɡzɪt/; a portmanteau of "British exit") was the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) at 23:00 GMT on 31 January 2020 (00:00 1 February 2020 CET). The UK is the only sovereign country to have left the EU or the EC.

Why does Switzerland not join the EU? ›

It signed the agreement on 2 May 1992, and submitted an application for accession to the EU on 20 May 1992. However, after a Swiss referendum held on 6 December 1992 rejected EEA membership by 50.3% to 49.7%, the Swiss government decided to suspend negotiations for EU membership until further notice.

Why is Norway not in the EU? ›

Norway had considered joining both the EEC and the European Union, but opted to decline following referendums in 1972 and 1994. According to the European Social Survey conducted in 2018, 73.6% of Norwegians would vote 'No' in a Referendum to join the European Union.

Why is Denmark not in the EU? ›

Denmark joined the European Union in 1973. It has negotiated an opt-out from the euro and is thus not obliged to introduce it.

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