News that U.S. citizens will soon need special authorization to visit most European nations has been met with alarm and confusion. Some of this consternation has resulted from early reports that called the authorization a visa (it is not), incorrect information floating around the internet and the confusing issue of which countries are involved. Here we will try to answer common questions, with the help of information currently available on the European Commission website. For some more involved questions, we corresponded by email with a Commission spokesman.
1. What is new requirement?
It is an authorization called an ETIAS, which stands for the European Travel Information and Authorization System. (Both the system and the authorization seem to be called ETIAS.)
2. Who needs to get it?
Initially, citizens of 60 countries, including the United States.
3. When does this go into effect?
This new system is expected to be implemented in 2021.
4. What will it cost me to get an ETIAS?
This has not been decided yet. The ETIAS information site says suggestions range between 14 and 60 euros (about $15 to $70). The money will go to the EU budget.
5. What does ETIAS authorize me to do?
It authorizes you to enter and to travel in the EU Schengen Area for up to 90 days.
6. What is the Schengen Area?
It is a group of 26 European countries that banded together to form one entity for the purposes of passport and border control. Citizens of a Schengen zone country can visit the other countries passport- and visa-free.
7. Is the Schengen area the same as the European Union?
Not exactly. It includes EU member countries Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and as well as nonmembers countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, plus the microstates of Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City.
8. Which EU countries are not in the Schengen Agreement?
The United Kingdom and Ireland, which have chosen not to be part of the agreement, and Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus, which are expected to eventually join.
9. Why is it called the Schengen Agreement?
The treaty that created the zone was signed on a ship on the Moselle River in Luxembourg, near a small town called Schengen. Agreements between nations are often named for where they were crafted: Kyoto Protocol, Oslo Accord, Geneva Conventions, Treaty of Versailles, Treaty of Paris . . .
10. How long will my ETIAS be valid?
Three years. You can visit Europe for up to 90 days at a time, but cannot be there for more than 90 days in each 180-day period.
11. How do I get an ETIAS authorization?
You apply online.
12. What do I need to have to apply?
You need a valid passport that will not expire within three months of your travel to the EU (if you are staying 90 days, it should be valid for six months). You will also need a credit or debit card and email address.
13. What information will I have to provide?
Basic information, including your name, age, gender, nationality, date and place of birth, passport information, address and contact information and first Schengen country you plan to visit. You will also have to answer background and security questions.
14. How long will it take to get this authorization?
It will take about 20 minutes to fill out the online form and pay. Your application will then be cross-checked against European border security and criminal databases. If there are no problems with your application, you should receive authorization by email within minutes.
15. What if there is a problem?
You will get an email within 96 hours stating the reasons for refusal and providing instructions for appealing. An appeal should be decided within four weeks.
16. What will I get to prove I have ETIAS authorization?
According to a European Commission spokesman, you will not receive anything physical because “the ETIAS is an authorization issued in an IT system.”
17. Who will check that I have this authorization?
Your ETIAS status will be checked electronically before you board an airline and at borders. The spokesman said the airline check will usually “be carried out at the check-in time. Air carriers will automatically send a query to ETIAS and will receive, in a matter of seconds, a reply whether the person has or not a valid travel authorization.”
At Schengen area border crossing points, your ETIAS status will be checked by the European Entry/Exit System (EES), an IT system that is in development. “The EES will replace the manual stamping of passports at entries and exits to and from the Schengen area,” the spokesman said. (This will be a disappointment for travelers who take pride in possessing a well-stamped passport.)
18. What about my kids?
Everyone visiting the EU will need ETIAS authorization.
19. But they do not have an email address or debit card.
Guardians of children under age 18 can fill out the forms for them. There is no fee for children under 18 or people older than 70.
20. How, exactly, does this differ from a visa?
A visa is required to remain in a Schengen zone country for more than 90 days. A visa requires much more information than ETIAS, such as including photos, a copy of your itinerary and proof you can financially support yourself. Visas for the purpose of employment or studying require even more information.
21. How will Brexit affect this?
From an American standpoint, not at all. Whether it stays in the EU or not, the United Kingdom is not part of ETIAS, so you will not need an ETIAS to visit there. From a British standpoint, it appears U.K. residents will have to obtain an ETIAS to visit countries in the Schengen Zone.
22. Does the United States have one of these systems?
Yes, it is called ESTA – Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and travelers from Visa Waver Program countries (whose citizens are allowed to visit for business or tourism for up to 90 days without first obtaining visas) have been required to obtain one since 2009. ETIAS is based on ESTA.
23. Why do countries do this?
Mostly for security. It allows countries to prescreen people long-distance, rather than in a passport control line. It also should help cut down on illegal migration.
24. Will this kill any spur-of-the-moment visits to Schengen countries?
It does not have to. The authorization is good for three years. Go ahead and get it, so you can pounce on a good airfare. In fact, because authorization sometimes can take more than a few minutes, the European Union recommends travelers “request an authorization from ETIAS before making concrete travel plans,” the spokesman said.
25. But do I have to enter through the country I said I planned to visit first? What if I change my plans?
The question regarding the first country an applicant plans to visit, “relates to the intention of travel and stay and is not an obligation for the traveler to travel and enter through that specified Member State, as indeed travel plans may have changed or not having been made in advance of applying for ETIAS,” the spokesman said
26. How to you pronounce this thing, anyway?
At the EU, it is A-tee-as. The people we asked at U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not have an answer for us.