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It is normally said that when requesting a short-stay Schengen visa, you must follow this "rule":

You must apply for a visa in the representation of the Schengen country in which lies the main reason/purpose of your trip or the representation of the Schengen country where you will remain longer. If the length of stay is the same for many countries, you need to apply in the representation of the Schengen country where you will arrive first.

Source (but the content is in Spanish): http://peru.nlembajada.org/shared/asuntos-civiles/asuntos-civiles/visados/concesion-de-visado-para-los-paises-bajos-visado-schengen/como-solicitar-un-visado-schengen.html

However, if my country now takes part of a visa waiver program, do I need to follow the same "rule" from above, even if a visa is not needed? It seems that embassies are very picky with this (at least when processing visa applications) but then, if no visa is needed, could border officers deny me entry if I don't follow this? Where can I find entry/exit rules for Schengen area when I need or don't need a Schengen visa?

marked as duplicate by CMaster, Gayot Fow, CGCampbell, Karlson, JonathanReez Mar 12 '16 at 16:43

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    I don't understand the question. If you no longer need a visa, then what are you applying to the embassy for? The rules you have quoted make no attempt to control entry points anyway... – CMaster Mar 11 '16 at 14:53
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    No, your question makes no sense. The quote you have used says nothing about where you have to arrive - it explains how to choose which national consulate to apply for a visa at. The only mention it makes as to arrival, is that, if nothing else about your visit marks a "main" destination, that you should apply for your visa to the first place you arrive. – CMaster Mar 11 '16 at 15:03
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    Oscar, you're talking about two different things. If you always planned to enter via Italy, but spend more time in France, then you should have no problem at all. We have many Qs on this site about that issue. If you say you will be spending most of your time in France, entering via France, then abruptly show up in Italy with no proof of onward travel to France, then you might have problems. And it still makes no sense to ask how this works when you don't have a visa issued by anywhere. – CMaster Mar 11 '16 at 15:27
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    The canonical question for this is Should my first trip be to the country which issued my Schengen visa? – Henning Makholm Mar 11 '16 at 15:32
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    @OscarJara: THERE IS NO SUCH RULE as the one you keep claiming there is. If you plan a trip that takes to to the Netherlands for 5 days and then to France for 10 days, and get a visa for that trip from France (which is the only coutnry that will issue visas for that itinerary) you're completely allowed to enter the Schengen area in the Netherlands, in line with the plans you disclosed in the visa application. You don't even need to spend days in the Netherlands -- it is also completely fine to get a visa for a trip just to France, but travel on KLM and therefore enter Schengen in AMS. – Henning Makholm Mar 11 '16 at 15:49
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The premise of this question is an assumption that a traveler with a visa issued by a Schengen state needs to enter the Schengen area through the state that issued his visa. There is no such requirement, however.

A Schengen visa is valid for seeking entry through any of the Schengen external borders.

A traveler with a single-entry visa issued by a Schengen state had better be able to convince the border guards at whatever port of entry he arrives at that the issuing state is indeed the main destination of his trip -- otherwise suspicion will be raised that the visa was obtained fradulently. But that does not mean that the port of entry need to be in the issuing state. Having convincing plans for a trip that the issuing state should be able to issue visas for is entirely sufficient.

So the rule you're envisaging does not exist, and there is of course no such rule that applies to visa-free travel either.

Every non-EEA national who arrives at the external Schengen borders -- visa or not -- is expected to be able to explain the purpose and plans for their visit. If those plans do not make sense in light of where they're entering (say, someone arriving by air into Helsinki from Istanbul and who claims to be on their way to a holiday in Malta) they will be in trouble, again visa or no visa.

If the traveler claims to have plans do make sense given the traveler's situation and documentation, including where his visa was issued if he has one (say, someone arriving by air into Copenhagen from Istanbul, claiming to be on their way to a business meeting in Malmö), then there is no trouble, no matter whether the country he first enters is also his main destination or not. Again, this is independent of whether you have a visa or not.

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As others have said, the rule you cite is for deciding which country should evaluate a traveler's Schengen visa application. For travelers who do not require a Schengen visa, the rule is irrelevant.

As you note,

embassies are very picky with this

But not "at least when processing visa applications"; they're picky about the rule only when processing applications, since that's what the rule is about.

The remainder of your question depends on incorrect assumptions or inferences about the Schengen visa rules.

it is well-known that you normally need to arrive in the country where your Schengen visa was issued

That's not true. It is a common misconception that you need to arrive in the country that issued your visa. In fact, such a rule would be completely illogical in the face of the visa-application rules, and inconsistent with them.

Consider the example of someone who plans to fly to Rome, spend a couple of days in Italy, then travel to France and spend three weeks there, then return to Rome for a couple of days before flying back home. Under the visa rules, that person must apply at the French consulate. All other consulates must refuse the application.

A rule requiring the person to enter through France would be completely incompatible with the rule requiring application to the main destination country. If the Schengen area wanted to have such a rule, then the rule for determining the country of application would be "you must apply to the country where you will first enter the Schengen area." But that's not the rule, of course.

otherwise you will be changing your itinerary

See the previous example. You would be changing your itinerary only if you submitted an itinerary where you enter your main destination directly. But these are not the only acceptable itineraries. You can apply with an itinerary where you enter through another country, and then when you arrive at that country, you are not in fact changing your itinerary.

For example, when having a Schengen visa issued by France and then entering the Schengen area through Italy (since France it's not your main destination anymore and you applied through it before, it could be interpreted as if you wanted to go Italy from scratch instead of France, which is a visa fraud)

Again with the previous example: The Italian border guards can ask you to prove that France is your main destination when you enter, but they can't deny entry simply because you arrive in Italy with a visa issued by France. When you show them that your application presented an itinerary beginning in Italy, along with evidence of your onward travel to and sojourn in France, they will let you in.

So, if I decide to visit France for 10 days and The Netherlands for 5 days, do I need to follow the "rule" where I SHOULD arrive in the main destination country? (in this case, France) or I am free to go through The Netherlands first even if I am spending less days there (remember that border officers could ask for itinerary/hotel reservations).

Since there is no such rule, you don't need to follow it. As a visa-free national, you can follow this itinerary just the same as you would be able to follow it holding a visa issued by France. Remember, if you were pursuing this itinerary as a visa national, you would be required to apply to the French consulate even though you are first spending five days in the Netherlands.

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