If you’re from Canada or the US (or one of about 60 other countries), you could buy a plane ticket right now and hop on the next flight to Paris or Rome – no forms, no visa, no advance planning required. You’d just present your passport to the border officials upon landing, and they’d process your arrival and send you on your way into Europe.
But starting in 2021, when ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) comes into effect, that’s going to change. Travellers who don’t need a visa to visit the Schengen area will have to submit an online application and receive verification before they can travel to Europe. If you attempt to travel to a Schengen country without an ETIAS authorization, you’ll most likely be denied boarding on your flight (or boat, bus, or train), and you’ll certainly be turned away at the border.
Fortunately, the ETIAS process will be quick and easy for the vast majority of travellers, and getting verified will just be a small to-do item somewhere in between booking your plane tickets and researching what to pack for Europe.
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What is ETIAS?
Contrary to some news reports, ETIAS is not a visa. Compared to the process of getting a visa, it has a much shorter application, is processed far more quickly, and costs much less. And, it doesn’t require visiting an embassy or mailing off your passport.
Instead, ETIAS is an electronic verification system that confirms that travellers wishing to visit Schengen states are eligible to do so. If you’re currently able to travel to Europe, you’ll still be able to under ETIAS. It’s expected that 98-99% of people who apply to ETIAS will be authorized for their trip.
The US already uses a very similar system called ESTA, which requires citizens of visa-exempt countries to submit an online form before they can visit the US. ETIAS will function like a collective ESTA system for all the Schengen states.
What countries will use ETIAS?
The ETIAS system will be used by the Schengen area, which is a separate entity from the European Union. However, most EU countries are members of Schengen, which currently comprises 26 countries in Europe.
Starting in 2021, an ETIAS verification will be required to travel to any of the following nations: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. By the time ETIAS is implemented, there will likely be four more countries on the list: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania, which are all in the process of joining Schengen.
However, ETIAS is not applicable to the United Kingdom or Ireland, which have both opted out of joining the Schengen area. If that’s where you’re headed, nothing will change.
Who needs an ETIAS verification?
ETIAS will be required for travellers from the roughly 60 countries that do not currently need a visa to enter the Schengen area. Countries that will be under ETIAS include Canada, the US, Australia, Japan, most non-Schengen European countries, most Latin American countries, and some others.
However, ETIAS will not apply to travellers from other countries. For those who currently need a Schengen visa – including citizens of Belarus, Turkey, Ecuador, and most of Africa and Asia – nothing will change. They will still be required to obtain the same visa prior to arrival.
Lastly, keep in mind that ETIAS has no age restrictions. It will be required for visitors of all ages, including infants travelling with their parents.
How will travellers apply to ETIAS?
Starting in 2021, travellers planning a trip to Europe will need to apply online for travel authorization before leaving for their trip. The application will vary depending on nationality, and may ask questions about education, work experience, criminal record, and past travel in Europe. In any case, it shouldn’t take more than about ten minutes to complete.
To apply to ETIAS, you must have an email address, and your passport needs to be valid for at least three months past your intended stay in Europe. You’ll also need a credit or debit card handy, as travellers aged 18-70 will be charged a €7 fee (the application will be free for travellers under 18 and over 70).
After you submit your application, the system will automatically run security checks against databases like Interpol. Assuming no hits come up, you’ll get an email confirming your verification within a few minutes.
But if there’s a hit in one of the databases, which is expected to happen in about 5% of cases, your application will have to be processed manually. That can take between four days and two weeks, so it would be a good idea to apply to ETIAS at least a couple weeks before you plan to travel to Europe.
Once you receive the email confirming your verification, that’s it. ETIAS is a paperless system, so there are no additional documents to bring with you on your trip. You don’t even need to print out the email – although it would be smart to at least save a screenshot of it on your phone.
In the unlikely event that your ETIAS application is denied, you’ll receive an email with justification for the denial. You’ll then have the right to appeal the decision.
What are other rules about ETIAS?
ETIAS authorizations will be valid for three years. If your passport expires within that time, the authorization will become invalid, and you’ll need to apply again using your new passport.
Like under the current system, you’ll be limited to staying in the Schengen area for 90 days out of every 180 days. Provided you abide by that rule, ETIAS verifications will allow for an unlimited number of entries into the Schengen area. If you need to stay in Europe for a longer period of time, ETIAS won’t be relevant, and you’ll have to apply for the relevant Schengen visa.
Ultimately, any inconvenience created by ETIAS is expected to be very small. It should be a quick process, and it won’t impose any new restrictions on travel to Europe. If anything, you’ll hopefully benefit from a smoother process at the border once it goes into effect.