Have you ever wondered what is the difference between Europe, the European Union, and the Eurozone? While they all sound very similar and all contain the word “euro”, they sure are entirely different things, and 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. 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, the continent with many countries open to Canadian travelers right now.
So I’ll explain each one 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.
The basics of Europe definitions
First, here’s a brief overview of these 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 who 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—where Flytrippers’ co-founder Kevin is currently traveling, in Georgia to be more specific—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, 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 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.
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.
For pandemic travel, it’s good to know that those who have been in the Schengen Area (plus the UK and Ireland—and a few other countries not in Europe) in the previous 14 days are not allowed to enter the United States (not even for transits, since transits don’t exist in the US per se).
So be careful not to book a flight that touches both the Schengen Area and the US, as you’ll be denied boarding and lose your money. That happened to quite a few of our readers who didn’t follow our advice of carefully reading the rules for every country you are going to.
And while the EU recommends which restrictions and requirements its member countries should impose on different nationalities 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.
Every country can have different rules, 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).
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.
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).
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 our cheap flight deals page!
The European Union (the EU) is a community of 27 economically and politically connected European countries.
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.
Most well-known (and the most visited) countries in Europe 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.
Here are the European countries who 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 and Norway
- 3 countries in Eastern Europe: Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine
- 6 countries in the Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia
- 5 countries that are tiny: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, and The Vatican
- 2 countries that are transcontinental: Russia and Turkey
- 3 countries often counted as part of Asia: Georgia, Armenia, and 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 the 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 two 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.
This one is pretty simple too. If the country uses the Euro (€) as its currency, it’s in the Eurozone. Well, almost… It’s in the Euro area, at least.
You see, 19 EU member states use the Euro and are therefore part of the official Eurozone.
But 4 non-EU members (4 tiny nations entirely surrounded by Eurozone members: Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican) also use the Euro with a formal agreement, but aren’t officially part of the Eurozone administratively.
For you as a traveler, though, they use the Euro, so it’s exactly the same as official Eurozone members.
By the way, many less experienced travelers seem to make such a big deal about currencies while in reality, it’s really not an issue at all. We’ll have more content on that soon to show you that you can’t stop worrying about that: Wherever you go, it’s not hard at all to get local money, whatever it’s called! And we’ll have a great tip to save on fees to get foreign currencies in there too.
But the Eurozone is useful for travelers in the sense that you can use the same currency in 25 different countries.
I said 19 EU countries (blue) and 4 non-EU countries with an agreement (yellow), what are the 2 other ones (purple)?
Well, there is also Montenegro and Kosovo (who aren’t EU members as I said earlier) but have adopted the Euro unilaterally, without a formal agreement, unlike the 4 others. Again, not officially Eurozone, but you use the Euro there, so it’s all the same for you.
That also means that 8 EU member states do not use the Euro, for a variety of reasons. Some are working towards making the Euro their currency eventually. Others aren’t.
So contrary to popular belief, just because you are in the European Union doesn’t mean you can use the Euro (and just because you are not in the European Union doesn’t mean that you cannot use it either).
The EU countries that do not use the Euro are:
- 2 countries in Northern Europe: Denmark, Sweden
- 3 countries in Central Europe: Czechia, Hungary, and Poland
- 3 countries in Eastern Europe: Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania
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.
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 (but both Canadians and Americans will need to apply for a “travel authorization,” essentially an e-visa, to enter the Schengen Area at some point in the future).
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 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. Those are the most unusual instances, as you can cross from an EU country to a non-EU country, and there is still no border.
The 4 non-EU members who are part of the Schengen Area are:
As is the case for the Eurozone, that means some EU members aren’t part of the Schengen Area, in this case, 5 countries:
- 3 countries in Eastern Europe: Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania
- 2 countries that are islands: Ireland and Cyprus
In case you are wondering about the name origin, it comes from the 1985 Schengen Agreement, signed in a village with that name in Luxembourg.
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.
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, and 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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Europe is the best-known continent in the world, and countries there can be part of different structures like the EU, the Eurozone, and the Schengen Area. Hopefully, now you better understand how the European countries have formed different unions and alliances to ensure better cooperation between one another, and less restrictive movement of people, goods, and services.
What would you like to know about the difference between Europe, the EU, the Eurozone, and the Schengen Area? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: EU flag in Berlin (photo credit: Christian Lue)
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