NASSAU, Bahamas – The Government has signed a ‘Short Stay Visa Waiver Agreement’ which allows Bahamians to travel visa-free to Schengen European countries for up to three months, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.


The agreement was signed May 28 during a ceremony at the Council of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium by His Excellency Paul Farquharson, Ambassador of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to the European Community. He is also High Commissioner to London.


The agreement, to take effect immediately, applies to the following Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.


The agreement does not apply to Ireland or the United Kingdom. Bahamian passport holders may still travel to these countries without a visa for stays of up to six months, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs T Brent Symonette on Thursday.


The agreement also does not apply to the overseas territories of France or the Netherlands. A French visa is required for French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion, Tahiti and St Martin. A visa is not required for the Netherlands overseas territories of Aruba, and Netherlands Antilles including Bonaire, Curacao, and St Maarten.


This agreement does not yet apply to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland recently became a Schengen country.


However Bahamians are still able to travel there for short stays without a visa, Mr. Symonette said.


Under the current European Union rules regarding travel to the Schengen area, a short stay is defined as a time not exceeding three months, within a six-month period following the first date of entry into the Schengen area as a whole.


Stays are calculated on a cumulative basis within that six-month period, including both the number of days stayed, and the number of Schengen countries visited.


This means that a visit to any one of the 25 countries is considered as a visit to all and will count towards the maximum three months stay within a six-month period, according to the agreement.


This does not prevent persons from travelling to several of the countries on any one visit or from visiting Europe more than once in a six-month period.


“Bahamians who travel frequently to Europe, and whose visits may potentially exceed three months within any six month period, should contact the nearest embassy or consulate of the country to which they intend to travel in order to secure the necessary visas or permits,” Mr. Symonette said.


“For the time being, visits to Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania would be the exception to this, as Bahamian passport holders could make three month visits to each of these countries without it counting towards their overall three month allowance. This exception would fall away once these countries fully implement the Schengen Agreement,” he said.


For the purpose of the agreement, short stays are considered as visits for tourism, business, sports, journalism, and intra-corporate training.


“The agreement does not cover students or persons seeking employment,” said Mr Symonette. “These persons must continue to secure the necessary visas and permits for educational or employment purposes.”


The agreement was also signed between the European Union and Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Mauritius, St Kitts and Nevis and the Seychelles.