The European Union (EU) has a two-tier customs system: one for goods bought duty-free to import to or export from the EU, and one for goods bought in another EU country where taxes and duties have already been paid.
- Entering or leaving the EU, you are allowed to carry duty-free 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 2L of still wine plus 1L of spirits over 22% alcohol or another 4L of wine (sparkling or otherwise); 50g of perfume, 250cc of eau de toilette.
- Travelling from one EU country to another, the duty-paid limits are 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 1kg of tobacco, 10L of spirits, 20L of fortified wine, 90L of wine (of which not more than 60L is sparkling) and 110L of beer.
- Non-EU countries often have different regulations and many countries forbid the export of antiquities and cultural treasures.
EU citizens don't need visas for other EU countries. Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and Americans don’t need visas for visits of less than 90 days.
The Schengen Area
Twenty-six European countries are signatories to the Schengen Agreement, which has effectively dismantled internal border controls between them. They are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The UK and Ireland, as well as Russia and much of Eastern Europe, are not part of the Schengen Agreement. Visitors from non-EU countries will have to apply for visas to these countries separately.
Citizens of the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK only need a valid passport to enter Schengen countries (as well as the UK and Ireland). However, other nationals, including South Africans, can apply for a single visa – a Schengen visa – when travelling throughout this region.
Non-EU visitors (with or without a Schengen visa) should expect to be questioned, however perfunctorily, when first entering the region. However, later travel within the zone is much like a domestic trip, with no border controls.
If you need a Schengen visa, you must apply at the consulate or embassy of the country that’s your main destination, or your point of entry. You may then stay up to a maximum of 90 days in the entire Schengen area within a six-month period. Once your visa has expired, you must leave the zone and may only reenter after three months abroad. Shop around when choosing your point of entry, as visa prices may differ from country to country.
If you’re a citizen of the US, Australia, New Zealand or Canada, you may stay visa-free a total of 90 days, during six months, within the entire Schengen region.
If you’re planning a longer trip, you need to enquire personally as to whether you need a visa or visas. Your country might have bilateral agreements with individual Schengen countries allowing you to stay there longer than 90 days without a visa. However, you will need to talk directly to the relevant embassies or consulates.
While the UK and Ireland are not part of the Schengen area, their citizens can stay indefinitely in other EU countries, only needing paperwork if they want to work long-term or take up residency.
- Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK need only a valid passport to enter nearly all countries in Europe, including the entire EU.
- Belarus and Russia require a prearranged visa before arrival and even an ‘invitation’ from (or booking with) a tour operator or hotel. It's simpler and safer to obtain these visas before leaving home.
- Australians and New Zealanders can obtain a visa on arrival in Ukraine from Boryspil International Airport (Kyiv).
- Transit visas are usually cheaper than tourist or business visas but they allow only a very short stay (one to five days) and can be difficult to extend.
- All visas have a ‘use-by’ date and you’ll be refused entry afterwards. In some cases it’s easier to get visas as you go along, rather than arranging them all beforehand. Carry spare passport photos (you may need from one to four every time you apply for a visa).
- Visas to neighbouring countries are usually issued immediately by consulates in Eastern Europe, although some may levy a hefty surcharge for ‘express service’.
- Consulates are generally open weekday mornings (if there’s both an embassy and a consulate, you want the consulate).
- Because regulations can change, double-check with the relevant embassy or consulate before travelling.