The Schengen Area is a region of 26 European countries which has no internal hard borders. People can move freely between the countries as if it is a single territory.
Travellers from many countries must apply for a Schengen visa to visit any of these 26 member states. This involves going to an embassy or consulate.
Conversely, many other nationalities can enter the Schengen Area for limited periods without a visa. Visa-exempt countries include the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Argentina. Citizens of these countries can currently travel to Schengen countries with just their passport.
However, in 2022, this will all change with the introduction of ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). ETIAS is an electronic visa waiver, rather than a visa. It will become an additional requirement for visa-exempt visitors. There are currently more than 60 visa-free nationalities who will need to obtain one before entering the open borders region.
The main differences between ETIAS and Schengen visas are the application process and who needs to apply for each one before heading to the Schengen Area.
Most of the ETIAS-eligible countries are currently visa-exempt. People from non ETIAS-eligible countries will still have to obtain a Schengen visa.
ETIAS visa waivers
ETIAS will be designed for short stays and will allow stays of up to 90 days (during any 180-day period). They will be valid for 3-year durations or when the ETIAS holder’s passport expires (whichever comes first).
Which nationalities will be eligible for ETIAS?
At the moment there are more than 60 countries which will be eligible for ETIAS in 2022, though more countries are likely to be added to the list in the future. The ETIAS-eligible countries are:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Hong Kong
- Marshall Islands
- New Zealand
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent
- Solomon Islands
- South Korea
- Timor Leste
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United States of America
How will travellers be able to apply for ETIAS?
Travellers from eligible countries will be able to apply for ETIAS by filling out an online form by entering information such as their name, address, date of birth, passport details, and travel plans. The whole process will be completed online, meaning there will be no need to go to an embassy or consulate.
It will be necessary to have a valid passport from one of the eligible countries and to meet the basic ETIAS requirements. Applicants will have to pay a fee using a credit or debit card to submit the application.
Schengen visas, like ETIAS, are for short stays and allow travellers to spend up to 90 days in the region. There are single-entry visas, double-entry visas, and multiple-entry visas which have varying lengths of validity (depending on the needs of the applicant).
Which nationalities need a Schengen visa?
At the moment, travellers of any nationality who is not entitled to visa-free entry into the Schengen Area needs a Schengen visa to visit any of the 26 countries in the zone.
After ETIAS is introduced, travellers from countries which are not eligible for ETIAS (see the above list of eligible countries) will need a Schengen visa to visit the region. More countries may be added to the list of eligible countries before or after the launch of ETIAS.
How to apply for a Schengen visa
Applying for a Schengen visa requires going to an embassy or consulate of one the ETIAS member states. As a general rule, although a Schengen visa entitles visitors to enter all 26 of the Schengen countries, applicants should go to the embassy or consulate of the first Schengen country they plan to visit.
Travellers should book an appointment at an embassy or consulate at least 15 days before their trip to allow time for their application to be processed. Every Schengen member state has its own rules regarding required documentation and visa requirements.
However, whichever embassy or consulate you apply at, you will need to complete an application form, provide a photograph, and pay the Schengen visa fee.