You are currently viewing These 2 beautiful and affordable European countries have just joined the Schengen Area

A few days ago, 2 beautiful European countries that I’ve grown quite fond of joined the Schengen Area (with a minor caveat). The Schengen Area is the part of Europe where border controls are completely abolished and you can travel as if it were a single country. Here’s what it means for travelers like you and me — and also why you should visit these magnificent countries.

Here are the details.

 

Overview of the 2 new Schengen countries

Here are the basics of the Schengen Area:

  • It’s an agreement between several countries on the European continent
    • They have a common policy for entry rules and requirements
    • It is therefore an Area without border controls
  • It’s the world’s largest free-movement zone (29 countries officially + 3 others)
    • It includes most European Union countries (25 of the 27)
    • But also some non-EU countries (4)
    • And a few microstates are de facto part of it (3)

Here are the basics of the most recent expansion of the Schengen Area:

  • Romania and Bulgaria are now members
    • They officially joined on March 31, 2024
  • This affects travel between these 2 countries and all other Schengen countries
    • Air and sea border controls have been abolished
    • Land border controls are maintained for the time being

So the minor caveat is that it’s not yet in place at the land border, but the fact remains that the vast majority of travelers can now enjoy the benefits of the Schengen Area in 2 more countries!

That’s because there are just 3 land borders affected, and above all, there are flights for as little as $48 between the rest of Europe and Romania (to give just one example).

I’ve included a map of the Schengen Area below.

 

Analysis of Romania and Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen Area 

This is a very positive development for almost all travelers.

Good news! This is clearly good news for most foreign travelers, who can now travel more easily and quickly to these 2 countries — as well as for Bulgarians and Romanians, of course!

On the other hand, it can be a drawback for 2 types of travelers:

  • Long-term travelers (like me) from non-European countries (Canada in my case)
  • Travelers who wanted to go to these countries without having to fill in a simple form from 2025 onwards

Firstly, this inconvenience doesn’t affect anyone who unfortunately travels very little: there are now more countries that count towards the total number of visa-free days allowed in Europe.

Indeed, Canadians now have even fewer options for countries in Europe to leave the Schengen Area (I list them below, along with those close to Europe). This was already a major issue for digital nomads who love Europe.

Yes, citizens of countries that are not members of this agreement (such as Canada) are allowed to spend a maximum of 90 days in the Schengen Area per 180-day period.

That’s the rule! Let me remind you of the most basic thing about planning any trip: the only mandatory step is to check the entry rules and requirements of each country. Literally the only one.

Secondly, speaking of rules, the other drawback is still very very minor: there are now more countries that will require a travel authorization (e-visa) starting in 2025.

Yes, to enter the Schengen Area(i.e. almost all of Europe), all Canadians will need a travel authorization (which is basically the same thing as an e-visa).

It’s going to be a form that will be simple to fill out online, as almost everything is simple to do in a few clicks — we’ll tell you more about it closer to the planned start date in mid-2025, so you can relax for quite a while. But anyway, it will be an extra step for Romania and Bulgaria too.

 

Why visit Romania

Romania is the 6th most populous country in the European Union, with 19 million inhabitants on a territory about 4 times smaller than Ontario.

Location of Romania (image credit: Google Maps)

 

This country, known to many as the setting for Bram Stocker’s book Dracula, has much to offer travelers. With its impressive castles, medieval villages, magnificent landscapes, and fascinating folklore, Romania could well become your new favorite destination.

Sinaia, Romania (photo credit: Gloria Cretu)

 

What’s more, the locals are known for being extremely friendly and multilingual. Despite all its charms, Romania is still an overlooked destination for many travelers, who always just go to expensive, overcrowded Western Europe.

Bucharest, Romania’s pretty capital, is often nicknamed “Little Paris” for its architecture or even “New Berlin” for its lively nightlife. If you like to party, you know where to go!

Bucharest, Romania (photo credit: Adrian Dascal)

 

I really liked the city during our very short stay in 2019 with Andrew, on our way to Moldova and Transnistria.

What’s more, this Eastern European country is cheaper than many others on the Old Continent. So it’s a great destination for travelers who want to spend less.

Bran, Romania (photo credit: Calin Stan)

 

In Bucharest, for example, there are some well-rated accommodations that don’t cost too much:

Let’s be clear, it’s obviously not the low prices of Malaysia or Indonesia, but you can still get many free nights in Romania if you’re one of the savvy travelers who take advantage of the current Marriott Bonvoy Amex Card increased welcome bonus that gives you 71,000 points (142,000 if your companion takes advantage of it too)!

The Moxy Bucharest Old Town Hotel is perfectly located in the heart of the capital. We love the fun Moxy brand, one of Marriott’s 30+ brands.

Moxy Bucharest Old Town 5 nights 59k
Moxy Bucharest Old Town Hotel (image credit: Marriott)

 

It’s obviously even cheaper in Cluj-Napoca, the country’s 2nd largest city and unofficial capital of the historic Transylvania region:

The brand-new Courtyard Cluj-Napoca Downtown hotel is equally well located in the center of the city. It only has 2 reviews (5 out of 5), that’s how new it is!

Courtyard Cluj-Napoca Downtown 5 nights 44k
Courtyard Cluj-Napoca Downtown Hotel (image credit: Marriott)

 

Why visit Bulgaria

Bulgaria is less populous, with 6 million inhabitants, and is half the size of neighboring Romania.

Location of Bulgaria (image credit: Google Maps)

 

Bulgaria is another underrated and highly affordable destination not to be missed. This small nation is, incidentally, charmingly nicknamed the “Land of Roses” because of its mass production of the flowers of love.

You’ll find sunny beaches along the Black Sea, the famous Balkan mountains — where I spent the most time in Europe — and historic cities like Plovdiv.

Bansko, Bulgaria (photo credit: Alan Rostovtev)

 

Sofia, the capital, has a history dating back over 2000 years! The city boasts many interesting historical monuments, pretty Orthodox churches, old Soviet buildings, and lots of trendy boutiques.

Above all, you absolutely must try out some of the local restaurants. I promise you’ll love it! I’m going back for another 2 weeks this summer.

Sofia, Bulgaria (photo credit: Alexandr Bormotin)

 

Here are some examples of accommodation in Sofia:

  • Nice hostel: Hostel Mostel
    • $15 per night per person
    • Rated 8.7/10
  • Nice hotel: Generator Sofia
    • $51 per night
    • $26 per night per person with a companion
    • Rated 9.0/10

Here are some examples of accommodation in Varna, on the coast:

  • Nice hostel: M Hostel Musala
    • $21 per night per person
    • Rated 8.1/10
  • Nice hotel: Villa Savovi
    • $47 per night
    • $24 per night per person with a companion
    • Rated 8.8/10

Marriott options in Bulgaria are even less attractive, both for those who want to maximize their quantity of free nights and for those who want to maximize the value obtained with points.

At certain times of the year, the Four Points by Sheraton Bansko in the mountains is 22,400 points per night (112,000 for 5 nights), but it’s often even more expensive.

Four Points by Sheraton Bansko Hotel 5 nights 112k
Four Points by Sheraton Bansko Hotel (image credit: Marriott)

 

But most of all, it’s a good example that some Marriott points redemptions are excellent (70,000 points for a night worth $3000+) and some are less so!!!! It varies, the concept is that simple! That’s what makes it possible to get outsized value if you use them well!

I’m going back to Bansko this summer too and a luxury apartment costs me only €400 (≈ C$586) for a month. Last year, my 2-bedroom apartment cost me just €250 (≈ C$366) for a month.

So I wouldn’t waste precious Marriott Bonvoy points there, but every traveler is different and even those who don’t want to rack their brains should take advantage of the increased deal on the Marriott Bonvoy Amex Card.

 

Map of the Schengen Area

Here’s the most up-to-date map of the Schengen Area, including Romania and Bulgaria.

Map of the Schengen Area (image credit: Wikipedia Commons)

 

Here’s the map key:

  • Purple: Romania and Bulgaria
  • Dark blue: 27 countries that were officially already members
  • Light blue: 3 countries that were de facto already members
  • Yellow: Cyprus that is legally obligated to join in the future
  • Grey: Countries that are not members

One of the most popular countries for travelers, Greece, is finally going to be connected to all the others by land (once Romania and Bulgaria will implement this by land).

Indeed, there are only 3 land borders that Romania and Bulgaria have with other member countries:

  • Between Romania and Bulgaria
  • Between Romania and Hungary
  • Between Bulgaria and Greece

This will create a contiguous block of territory from one end of the Schengen Area to the other (apart from the islands, of course).

By the way, the Schengen Area is almost complete now. Cyprus is the last EU country legally obligated to join in the future.

Of course, if other countries join the EU, the Schengen Area could grow. This is likely to happen with Balkan countries at some point.

You can read our post on the basics of the differences between Europe, the European Union, the Eurozone, and the Schengen Area.

 

Remaining non-Schengen options near Europe

If you’re traveling for longer and find yourself having to leave the Schengen Area to stay within your 90-day limit, there are still several options close by.

These countries are almost all very accessible, with flights under $100!

The British Isles:

  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland

The beautiful Balkan countries:

  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Albania
  • Northern Macedonia
  • Montenegro
  • Serbia
  • Kosovo

The Mediterranean countries in Africa:

  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Tunisia
  • Algeria
  • Libya

The places that are geographically in the Middle East:

  • Cyprus
  • Türkiye

The Caucasus countries:

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Georgia

The easternmost countries in Europe:

  • Moldova
  • Ukraine
  • Belarus
  • Russia

The countries most people will want to avoid these days:

  • Israel
  • Palestine
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Jordan
  • Iraq

 

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Summary

The recent integration of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen Area impacts most travelers positively. It is certainly good news for the economy and tourist industry of these 2 countries. I highly recommend visiting these Eastern European treasures.

 

What would you like to know about Romania and Bulgaria? Tell us in the comments below.

 

See the flight deals we spot: Cheap flights

Discover free travel with rewards: Travel rewards

Explore awesome destinations: Travel inspiration

Learn pro tricks: Travel tips

 

Featured image: Romania | Bulgaria (photo credit: RossHelen | George Ivanov)

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Kevin Gagnon

Kevin is the co-founder of Flytrippers. A former structural engineer, he is now following his true passion, traveling! With the website, he also wants to share this passion with you and allow you to travel more than you would have thought possible. His goal is to visit all the countries in the world. Current count: 87/193!

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