Rules for access to the EU’s Visa Information System (VIS)


Decision 2008/633/JHA: access to the Visa Information System by EU countries' authorities and Europol



The Visa Information System (VIS) is a tool that supports the implementation of the common EU visa policy. It allows Schengen States to exchange visa data. It consists of a central IT system and a communication infrastructure that links this central system to national systems.

The decision allows the VIS to be used to prevent, detect and investigate terrorist offences and other serious criminal offences.

It enables designated law enforcement authorities (such as authorities responsible for tackling terrorism or serious criminal offences e.g. drug trafficking or trafficking in human beings) in the countries of the Schengen Area and Europol to access the VIS.

The national designated authorities must follow a procedure to access the VIS once all conditions for access are fulfilled.

The decision also lays down rules to protect the personal data of visa holders.


VIS connects consulates in non-EU countries and all external border crossing points of Schengen States. It processes data and decisions relating to applications for short-stay visas to visit, or to transit through, the Schengen Area. The VIS prevents fraudulent visa document abuses by assisting border guards when verifying that the bearer of a visa is its rightful holder.

Access to the VIS data applies on a case-by-case basis with reasoned written or electronic requests.

The designated authorities may only consult the VIS if it is necessary or if there are reasonable grounds for believing that such a search would substantially help in preventing, detecting or investigating serious crime. This may happen, for example, in cases of terrorism or with persons linked directly or indirectly to terrorist or other serious criminal offences.

Europol may only access VIS within the limits of its mandate and when it is necessary for the performance of its tasks.

Type of searches in the VIS

Searches in the VIS are limited to specific data, for example:

surname, first names, sex and date, place and country of birth;

current nationality and nationality at birth of the visa applicant;

type and number of the travel document;

purpose of travel, and intended date of arrival and departure;

intended border of first entry or transit route;


type of visa and number of the visa sticker;

details of the person who has issued an invitation for the visa applicant, etc.

If the search using any of the above data is successful, the authorities may in addition access other data, such as photographs.

Protection of personal data and data security

When processing personal data in line with this decision, each EU country has to ensure an adequate level of data protection.

Only in urgent cases and for the purpose of preventing and detecting serious offences, personal data may be transferred to non-EU countries or to international organisations. However, in such cases, the consent of the EU countries that entered the data must be obtained.

EU countries must also ensure the security of the data accessed in VIS during their transmission to the designated authorities.


Council Decision (EU) 2015/1956 set 1 September 2013 as the date on which Decision 2008/633/JHA was to take effect.


The VIS was established by Council Decision 2004/512/EC of 8 June 2004. On 7 March 2005, the Council adopted conclusions stating that EU countries authorities should be guaranteed access to the VIS in order to fight against terrorism and other criminal offences.


Council Decision 2008/633/JHA of 23 June 2008 concerning access for consultation of the Visa Information System (VIS) by designated authorities of Member States and by Europol for the purposes of the prevention, detection and investigation of terrorist offences and of other serious criminal offences (OJ L 218, 13.8.2008, pp. 129–136)


Regulation (EC) No 767/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 July 2008 concerning the Visa Information System (VIS) and the exchange of data between Member States on short-stay visas (VIS Regulation) (OJ L 218, 13.8.2008, pp. 60–81)

Successive amendments and corrections to Regulation (EC) No 767/2008 have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is for reference only.

last update 23.11.2015