One of the many beauties about traveling to Europe as a U.S. or Canadian citizen is how easy it is. All you need is a valid passport and a couple of extra pages at the back of your booklet for passport stamps, and you’re free to explore Europe’s cobblestoned streets, vibrant plazas, and elegant cities.
Unfortunately, these rules are going to change come 2021. If you’ve heard about Europe’s new visa process and are a U.S. or Canadian citizen planning on traveling to any Schengen Area countries (the 26 European nations that “abolished their internal borders [to facilitate] the free and unrestricted movement of people”) in 2021 or later, don’t panic. Though there is a new process to enter Europe for a handful of countries who didn’t previously require permission, it isn’t nearly as strenuous or worrisome as some reporting has made it out to be.
Using the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), visitors from several visa-exempt countries, including the U.S. and Canada, will have to fill out an application in order to visit Europe. Continue reading to find out more about ETIAS, and what this means for you when traveling to Europe starting in 2021.
What Is The European Travel Information And Authorization System?
The European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS, is a visa waiver -- a form of electronic travel authorization for many visa-exempt citizens, including U.S. and Canadian citizens, traveling to Europe’s Schengen Area. This entirely-electronic system will keep track of visitors from countries who currently do not need a visa to enter Europe’s Schengen Zone. ETIAS is similar to the U.S.’s well-known Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
Besides the U.S. and Canada, there are currently 60 other countries that are not a part of the European Union but can enter Europe visa-free. Travelers from these 62 countries can remain in Europe’s Schengen Area for business or travel purposes for up to 90 days, no visa necessary. During this time, visitors are prohibited from working or studying but can participate in business and tourism activities.
Starting in 2021, though, many formerly visa-exempt nationals traveling to Europe’s Schengen Area will need to obtain an ETIAS travel authorization prior to their trip.
According to its official website, ETIAS was created in response to the recently increased security risk to both EU citizens and those traveling to the Schengen Area.
ETIAS was implemented to ensure the safety of all those within its borders: citizens and travelers alike. Furthermore, the ETIAS process was designed to make entering the Schengen Zone quicker for visitors. It is expected to reduce procedures and wait times at immigration checkpoints throughout Europe.
When Does This Go Into Effect?
While the EU began the legal procedures associated with implementing ETIAS in 2016, it will not come into effect until 2021. Former visa-exempt nationals traveling to Europe in or after 2021 must apply for ETIAS authorization. If you’ve booked travel in Europe for this year or for 2020, there’s no need to apply for ETIAS status.
Is The ETIAS A Visa?
Contrary to popular belief, the ETIAS is not a visa. ETIAS is a visa waiver that involves a screening process for those traveling to Europe’s Schengen Area. Though it will determine whether or not a citizen can enter this region, it is not considered a visa.
After a traveler’s application is completed, ETIAS will conduct a detailed security check of said applicant in order to determine whether or not they’ll be allowed to enter the Schengen Zone. Since there are 62 countries that currently do not need to acquire a visa to enter Europe, this process makes sure that nationals from the majority of these countries don’t impose a security threat.
Which Countries Will Require ETIAS Approval?
Starting in 2021, citizens from 62 countries will require ETIAS approval prior to traveling to Europe’s Schengen Area.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Hong Kong
- Marshall Islands
- New Zealand
- North Macedonia
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent
- Solomon Islands
- South Korea
- Timor Leste
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United States of America
ETIAS approval allows visitors from these 62 countries to visit the 26 nations in Europe’s Schengen Area:
- Czech Republic
Who Will Need To Apply?
Anyone traveling to Europe’s Schengen Area in 2021 or later from the 62 above-mentioned countries will need to apply for ETIAS approval.
How Does The Application Process Work?
The application process for ETIAS is fairly simple. The ETIAS application is available in a simple online format and takes an average of just 20 minutes to complete.
In order to apply, prospective applicants will need a passport with a minimum of three months of validity from their anticipated date of arrival and will be required to enter certain basic biographical information, and answer a set of ETIAS background and security questions. Applicants will also need a current email address where the approved ETIAS waiver can be delivered, plus a debit or credit card to pay the application fee.
The basic biographical information applicants will need to provide is as follows:
- First name
- Surname or family name
- Maiden name (if applicable)
- Usual name(s)
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Country of birth
The basic passport information applicants will need to provide is as follows:
- Passport number
- Issuance and expiration date
Other basic information applicants will need to provide is as follows:
- Current address
- Email address
- Phone number
Note that some applicants may be required to provide additional info related to their passport, education and employment status, and the Schengen member state through which they intend to enter the area.
Once an applicant has provided this information, the ETIAS travel authorization system will gather, keep track of, and update necessary information regarding a visitor in order to determine whether or not it is safe for them to enter Europe’s Schengen Area.
How Long Will It Take To Get Approved?
In most cases, the ETIAS authorization will be granted in a matter of minutes.
How Long Is The ETIAS Authorization Good For?
After approval, an ETIAS travel authorization can be used for three consecutive years, or until the associated passport expires, whichever comes first.
Keep in mind that the ETIAS travel authorization allows for short-term stays of up to 90 days. For those wishing to work or study in Europe’s Schengen Area, a different type of visa must be obtained.
How Much Does It Cost?
It will cost 7 euros (approximately $7.82 USD) to apply for an ETIAS authorization. Note that those under 18 years of age do not need to pay the fee to apply for the ETIAS, though an application must be submitted on their behalf.
Why Is This Process Being Put Into Effect?
As previously mentioned, the main reason the EU is implementing the ETIAS is to “strengthen external border controls, as well as enhance security within the community against terrorism threats and migration risks,” according to ETIAS Europe.
Despite the fear and frustration impending ETIAS-authorization requirements have caused for some who were used to entering the EU’s Schengen countries without prior authorization, the process is meant to protect EU citizens and visitors and is a direct result of recent events that have been detrimental to security in these areas.
While there has been much negative talk surrounding the inconvenience of the new ETIAS process, taking 20 minutes out of your day to better protect yourself, other visitors, and the citizens of Europe isn’t a terrible trade-off for being able to visit this incredible continent.
Going to complete the ETIAS application? First, read up on the ins and outs of applying for or renewing your U.S. passport.