Starting in 2021, visitors from many countries who can currently enter the European Schengen Area without a visa will have to register with a new electronic visa waiver system called ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System).
There are various benefits of ETIAS, not least that it improves security for the Schengen countries, their citizens and residents, and everyone visiting them.
The digitalization of data and the process of screening travelers before they arrive means that less time will be spent checking new arrivals’ documents at the Schengen border. This means it will be quicker and easier for travelers with an ETIAS to enter Europe.
Registration with ETIAS will be obligatory for all travelers who are visa-exempt except for citizens and residents of Schengen member states.
How Does ETIAS Improve European Security?
ETIAS is designed to improve safety and security for the Schengen Area. Visa-exempt visitors will have to complete a quick online application form with personal details (name, date of birth, nationality, etc.), passport details, and travel plans.
This data will be screened against international databases. Most applicants will be approved and receive confirmation of the ETIAS registration by email.
Any travelers found to have a history of involvement in serious criminal activity or terrorism will be denied their ETIAS and therefore entry to Europe. This will help to protect the Schengen Area and people traveling to it from the following threats:
- Drug trafficking
- Human trafficking
- Identity theft
- Illegal immigration
- Organized crime
Information about travelers with ETIAS will be safely encrypted and stored by the European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (eu-LISA). It will only be available to authorized border control officials.
Approved ETIAS applications will be linked to smart passports, meaning that fewer border control officers will be needed for checks where there are e-Passport gates. This has the dual advantage of optimizing border control resources and enabling visitors to enter Europe quickly and smoothly.
Which Countries Can You Visit with ETIAS?
The Schengen Area is a region of Europe made up of 26 countries that operate an open borders policy. As a rule, there are no checks on travelers crossing borders between member states; only on those entering the Schengen Area from a non-member country.
The Schengen Area should not be confused with the European Union (EU), which is a separate political organization. However, 22 of the 28 EU members are also part of the Schengen zone, along with 4 non-EU states (Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland).
The Schengen countries cooperate on immigration and border control matters, sharing information and resources to maintain security for the entire area and all its members.
ETIAS is the next step in this process. It will allow Schengen border control to screen all travelers before they arrive in Europe and prevent potential risks from entering. Meanwhile, approved visitors will be able to travel to any and all countries in the Schengen zone.
The 26 Schengen countries are:
Traveling to Europe With ETIAS
It is important to note that ETIAS is not a visa. It is a travel authorization, similar to the US ESTA or the Canadian eTA. The application process is much faster and more straightforward than that of a visa.
The applicant must follow these steps:
- Register their details on an online application form
- Send digital copies of their travel documents (passport)
- Pay the application fee.
Only citizens of visa-exempt countries may apply. Nationals of other countries will not be eligible for ETIAS and must apply for a Schengen visa instead.
There are 3 distinct advantages of the ETIAS for the traveler:
- It makes the Schengen Area safer as a whole, giving them peace of mind for their trip
- It reduces the time taken to pass through border control due to digital data
- Once approved, ETIAS will be valid for 3 years, enabling further visits to Schengen member states
- They can check the terms, details, and expiration date of their ETIAS online at any time
Scheduled to be introduced in 2021, ETIAS will be mandatory for eligible visitors and will allow them to travel freely within the Schengen Area. It looks certain to strengthen security, help combat international crime, and make Europe a safer place.