At the moment, citizens of around 60 countries are able to visit the European Union and the 26 Schengen Area countries visa-free. However, from 2022, all visa waiver passport holders will first be required to register with the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) before travelling to the Schengen Area in order to continue enjoying their visa exemption.
Citizens of eligible countries will be able to complete their ETIAS registration online and receive an approved ETIAS authorisation electronically linked to their passport, which will be valid for a total of 3 years from the date of issue, or until the expiration of the associated passport.
As ETIAS is a multiple-entry travel authorisation which will allow multiple stays of 90 days within each 180-day period, there will be no need to apply for ETIAS for each trip to the Schengen Area during its validity.
There are various other ETIAS benefits to both the European Union and foreign travellers that can be expected once the electronic system comes into effect, including increased security and expedited entry procedures for arriving tourists.
How ETIAS benefits the EU
The European Commission is primarily introducing the ETIAS electronic visa waiver in order to aid the Schengen Zone security system and further strengthen European borders. It will function similarly to the electronic ESTA system in the United States, by pre-screening travellers from visa waiver countries to determine their eligibility to visit Schengen Area countries.
Like the ESTA application, completing an ETIAS registration will involve the traveller providing personal, passport, and travel information on the form, as well as answering some health and security-related questions in order to receive an approved travel authorisation.
ETIAS: improving security for Europe
The information provided on the application will then be screened against the various security databases operated by eu-LISA, including SIS, VIS, Europol, and EURODAC, in order to identify any security risks to the European Union, especially terrorist threats.
Any information that brings up red flags, such as indicators of an imminent terrorist attack or other serious criminal offence, will then be shared with domestic law enforcement agencies, helping to close current security information gaps between the authorities of Schengen Area states.
Applicants for the ETIAS will also be checked against several interpol databases, including the Stolen and Lost Travel Document database (SLTD), the Travel Documents Associated with Notices database (TDAWN), and a dedicated ETIAS watch list, which which will be established by Europol closer to the launch date of the electronic travel authorisation.
This screening process will help to determine any potential risks and allow authorities to deny travel authorisation long before suspicious individuals reach external European borders. It will also help to curb human trafficking and illegal immigration, as all travellers will be required to have an approved ETIAS authorisation in order to enter the Schengen Area.
How ETIAS benefits tourists to the EU
In addition to improving security within European borders, the introduction of ETIAS will also improve safety for travellers, as dangerous individuals will be flagged before they are ever even allowed on transportation carriers heading towards the Schengen Area.
As the ETIAS for tourists will vastly improve border management, the new system will also save travellers time when passing through security controls at the airport and gain expedited entry to the Schengen Area.
Those with an approved ETIAS will have already answered security questions and provided key travel information during the online application process, meaning a reduced need for travellers to be questioned about the intent of their travel when arriving at Schengen Area immigration controls.
Streamlined ETIAS application process
The ETIAS is a travel authorisation system, not a visa. Citizens of countries who enjoy visa exemption for the Schengen Area will not be required to go to an embassy and go through a lengthy visa application process; instead they will simply have to register their details with ETIAS online from the convenience of their own home.
ETIAS-eligible travellers who previously had to apply for a visa to visit the Schengen Area for short stays will also find that the process of obtaining an ETIAS is far simpler, eliminating the need to apply from an embassy or consulate.
The online application will only take around 10 minutes to complete and most travellers will receive their approved travel authorisation within minutes. However, applicants are nevertheless advised to apply at least 72 hours before the intended date of arrival in the Schengen Area in order to allow sufficient processing time in case of any unexpected delays.
Although travellers will be able to print a paper copy of the ETIAS, this will not be an obligatory requirement, as the approved ETIAS will be electronically linked to the applicant’s passport. This means they will simply be able to present the passport used during the application in order to board their transportation carrier and gain entry to the Schengen Area.