Differences between EU, EEA, EFTA, and Schengen countries

In this article

The European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and Schengen area are all similar. However, there are slight differences between them all. Read on to understand the slight differences between them all.

The European Union (EU)

The European Union (EU) consists of 27 member countries. The European Union has a total area of 4,233,255.3 km². The total population of the 27 member countries is about 447 million. The 27 EU countries are Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Netherlands, Malta, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Portugal, Sweden, and Spain.
Turkey, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, and Albania are all in talks for being part of the European Union. To become a European Union country, the countries need to incorporate EU legislation into national law. Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Kosovo are potential candidates, but they have not fulfilled the conditions for joining the European Union.

The European Economic Area (EEA)

There are thirty countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). The thirty countries include the 27 members of the European Union, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Norway of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The internal market also applies here; goods, services, persons, and capital can move freely in this zone. The rules about government subsidy and competition also apply in Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Norway.
The European Economic Area was established in 1992, and it consisted of seven countries. Three of the members left the EEA to join the EU and Switzerland.

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

The EFTA is a free trade area that consists of four European countries - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. It has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The EFTA countries are all part of the Schengen area but are not part of the European Union Customs Union. English is their official working language, and Oslo is the largest city in EFTA.
The EFTA came to be on May 3, 1960. It was established to serve as an alternative trade bloc for some EU states that were unwilling or unable to join the then European Economic Community (EEC).

The Schengen Area

There are 26 countries in Europe that mutually abolished all passport requirements and other border control mechanisms among themselves. The agreement was signed in Schengen, Luxembourg, in 1985.
Of the 27 countries in the European Union, 22 of them are part of the Schengen area. The 4 EFTA countries are also part of the Schengen area. The Schengen area was initiated by Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France in 1985 but has spread across almost all the European Union. The 26 countries of Schengen are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Czech Republic, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Iceland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Italy, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, and Sweden.
The 5 EU countries that are not part of the Schengen zone are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Croatia, and Romania.
Members of the Schengen countries do not need a visa to enter into some European ETIAS countries. However, they will need to apply for the ETIAS before they can be granted a visa free entry. ETIAS Europe is known as the European Travel Information and Authorization System. ETIAS is very similar to the US ESTA, and it will become obligatory and effective by the end of 2022 when the system will be fully implemented. The application process is fully online and would only take about ten minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions About EEA, EFTA, and Schengen Countries

What is the EFTA?

The EFTA is known as the European Free Trade Association. It is an intergovernmental organization established in 1960 by the EFTA Convention. It was created to promote economic integration and free trade between its member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, within Europe and even globally.

Can the Member States of the EFTA sign bilateral free trade agreements?

Yes, the EFTA Convention does not oblige its member states to sign bilateral free trades agreements. They have the right to enter into bilateral third-country arrangements.

What is covered by the EEA Agreement?

The core of the EEA agreement allows for the freedom of the movement of goods, capital, services, and persons throughout the EEA States. The EEA agreement covers consumer protection, social policy, environment, company law, statistics, culture, and tourism.

What does the EEA Agreement not cover?

The agreement does not cover common agriculture and fisheries policies, common trade policy, customs union, monetary union, common security, and foreign policy.
Written by: Fikayomi Abisola
Abisola is an ETIAS Travel and Immigration writer with several years of writing experience in the industry. Abisola has a unique enthusiasm for travels, tours, and tourism and loves to educate travellers about the criteria involved in international travelling.


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