ETIAS – EU Travel Information and Authorisation System

The European Commission is currently preparing a proposal to introduce a new electronic pre-screening programme for visitors intending to travel to the European Union. The USA has successfully operated its ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) since 2009 and the European Union (EU) is now considering a similar programme, currently known as ETIAS (EU Travel Information and Authorisation System).

 

Schengen and non-Schengen border requirements

The expected draft legislation for the EU Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), due at the end of 2016, is likely to propose the instigation of a US-style ESTA as part of the Entry Exit System (EES) to the Schengen Zone. Once inside this zone, travellers are free to cross borders between the member states. The scheme would affect all 26 nations belonging to Schengen.

The Schengen Zone currently includes 22 EU member countries along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland *who all signed Schengen association agreements. The full list of Schengen Zone countries is:

 

Currently Britain and Ireland are not members of Schengen, which means that citizens must show a valid passport to enter the EU. However, once inside the Schengen Zone all visitors are able to travel freely over national borders.

Following Brexit, it has been suggested that British citizens may have to apply online for a type of EU ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) if free movement between the UK and the EU is rejected. However, such changes will be negotiated with individual EU countries and changes (if any) are unlikely to be implemented for several years. Under a new Travel Authorisation System, such as the US-style ESTA, or the proposed ETIAS, travellers would be required to apply for an authorisation to travel before departing from their home country. This would be done quickly and easily online and a fee would be charged. By submitting personal and passport information to the authorities, travellers can be screened and assessed to see if they are eligible to enter the country without applying for a full visa. Anyone not holding ETIAS approval may be declined boarding of an aircraft or commercial vessel, or refused entry on arrival at the border.

Visa or Travel Authorisation?

Travel authorisations, also known as e-visas or ESTAs, are not visas. As their name suggests, ESTAs are simply an electronic means of pre-screening travellers from visa waiver countries before they depart from their home country. ESTA applications can be completed online anywhere that has internet access and the electronic response, either approval or rejection, is usually delivered back to the applicant electronically within 72 hours. A fee is required as part of the application process. Currently the cost of a U.S. visa, which lasts two years, is $14 (about £10). It has already been officially confirmed that ETIAS will closely follow the U.S. ESTA programme.

Visas are much more detailed and time-consuming to apply for, particularly for travellers requiring a non-tourist visa, i.e. a visa for business or an extended stay in a country. Visas are issued by the embassy or consulate representing the country. They usually require the applicant to attend a personal interview at the embassy as part of their visa application. It has not been suggested that British citizens, post-Brexit, will require a visa to visit a European country, but plans are already being outlined to introduce ETIAS, an EU Travel Information and Authorisation System. This means that citizens from outside the European Union would need a biometric passport and a pre-approved travel authorisation to pass through immigration at any EU border Schengen member country. ETIAS would be part of the Schengen system of standardised external border controls.

How to apply for an ESTA or ETIAS

Applying for an ESTA is very easy. Applications can be submitted either through the online portal on the relevant government website, or using a private company that offers a travel authorisation application service on a person’s behalf. The advantage of using such a service is that the Customer Service Department will be able to assist you in answering any questions or problems you may have as part of your application.

Private companies offering ESTA application services are multilingual and will respond to enquiries in your native language. They also accept a wide range of credit card providers, which some government portals are unable to match.

Finally, a private company will check all the details submitted as part of any ESTA application. If any information is missing or appears to be incorrect, they will contact the applicant before submitting the application on their behalf. This can save time and may prevent rejection of any application, which would then mean applying for a full visa – a timely and costly process.

However you choose to apply for an ESTA, the response is normally delivered within 72 hours or less. It is sent electronically to your email address as a pdf document. It is advisable to print out the acceptance or carry a copy on your phone, in case it becomes necessary to show it before boarding an aircraft or commercial vessel transporting you to your chosen destination.

Travellers who do not have a valid travel authorisation, such as an ESTA or ETIAS, may be refused boarding and will be refused entry at the border. It is the traveller’s sole responsibility to find out whether they need an ETIAS, and to present a valid ETIAS before leaving their home country.

As ESTAs usually take 72 hours to be approved, travellers will need to apply for an ETIAS at least 72 hours before their planned departure.

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