Prior to the pandemic, Europe was the most-visited region in the world and has always been a very popular destination for U.S. travelers. As COVID restrictions continue to be dropped across Europe and as Americans plot future journeys to the continent once again, they should be aware that the rules for entry into the European Schengen Zone will soon change.
Initially meant to come into effect on January 1, 2021, and then delayed again until early 2023, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is now slated to launch in November 2023. At that point, all U.S. citizens who want to travel to the 26 members of Europe’s Schengen Zone will need to register with the ETIAS or risk being turned away at the border.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new ETIAS process:
Why the process is changing
The European Union decided to implement this new travel authorization program to protect and strengthen its borders amid mounting terror threats in Europe. By requiring visitors to register, the EU will be able to identify any possible threats or risks associated with travelers coming into these countries before they arrive.
Why is the ETIAS delayed?
Initially meant to come into effect on January 1, 2021, the ETIAS was first delayed until January 1, 2023. It is now slated to enter into operation in November 2023, due to delays in the anticipated adoption of the ETIAS Regulation plus the fact that ETIAS is being developed closely with the Entry/Exit System (EES), which is now scheduled to launch in May 2023, according to the European Commission. The EES is the electronic system that keeps track of visitors as they cross borders, and it is a precondition for ETIAS to enter into operation.
“At this stage we do not have a more specific release date to communicate,” a spokesperson from the European Commission confirmed to AFAR. “The exact date as of which applications for an ETIAS can be made will be determined at a later stage.”
Once the ETIAS is in operation in November 2023, a transitional period of six months will follow. During that time frame, the countries requiring the travel authorization will have to inform passengers of the new regulations. Passengers will still be allowed to cross borders during that six-month period without the ETIAS. The six-month transitional period will be followed by a grace period, the length of which has not yet been determined. During the grace period, the ETIAS requirement will apply unless it’s a passenger’s first time entering Europe since the end of the transitional period.
Does this mean I need a visa to travel to Europe?
This is not a visa. ETIAS is a travel authorization for visa-free visitors, similar to the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
“ETIAS is not a visa, it is a visa waiver. Travelers currently visiting European member countries visa-free, will require an ETIAS from 2023 onwards. Passport holders of the EU single market are exempt from ETIAS,” states ETIAS.com, the landing page for news and information regarding the new travel authorization process.
In other words, ETIAS will only prescreen travelers who do not need a Schengen visa.
According to a fact sheet the European Commission released in July 2018, “Nationals of visa liberalization countries will continue to travel the EU without a visa but will simply be required to obtain a travel authorization via ETIAS prior to their travel.
“An ETIAS travel authorization does not reintroduce visa-like obligations,” it continues. “There is no need to go to a consulate to make an application, no biometric data is collected and significantly less information is gathered than during a visa application procedure.”
Which European nations will require ETIAS authorization to visit?
The new travel authorization applies to those entering any member country of Europe’s Schengen Zone. Currently, that includes 22 countries that are also members of the EU, four non-EU countries, plus three European micro-states. That means that you’ll need to register to enter Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The micro-states of San Marino, Vatican City, and Monaco will also require the registering.
While Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus aren’t currently Schengen countries, they are in the process of joining and will be subject to the same requirements once they do.
However, there are still many European nations that aren’t part of the Schengen Zone, mostly in Eastern Europe. That means you’ll be able to travel to Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine without an ETIAS.
How long will an ETIAS take to process?
Once the ETIAS application is available online, it should only take about 10 minutes to fill out, according to ETIAS.com. To apply, you’ll need a valid passport, an email address, and a debit or credit card to pay the nonrefundable €7 application fee, which applies to individuals between the ages of 18 and 70. Those under the age of 18 or over 70 still need to have an ETIAS but will not be charged. There are no other fees associated with the program. After you fill out your application online with the personal information on your passport and answer a series of security and health-related questions, your ETIAS application will be processed immediately, and you will receive an email confirming that your ETIAS has been approved within 96 hours or less.
“A small percentage of applications may take up to four weeks to process if additional documentation is required from the applicant. If your ETIAS has not yet been approved and you do not have any other travel authorization, you will not be able to enter a country within the European Union,” according to the ETIAS website.
Will you have to reapply for each trip to Europe?
No. After you apply for the first time, your ETIAS will be valid for three years—or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Because the ETIAS is valid for short-term stays of up to 90 days for both leisure and business travelers, you’ll be able to re-enter Europe multiple times within that three-year period without renewing it, as long as your stay doesn’t exceed 90 days within a 180-day period. Those who want to study or work in Europe will need to apply for a proper work or study visa.
Who else will need ETIAS authorization?
This new program isn’t limited to U.S. citizens. In fact, there are more than 60 countries whose citizens will be required to have an ETIAS when visiting countries in the Schengen Zone. The list of ETIAS-eligible countries includes Canada, Mexico, Australia, and many more.
This article was originally published in 2019; It was most recently updated on August 8, 2022, to reflect current information.