Travelling from the U.S. to the European countries used to be easy. You just needed to find your destination, book a flight, and then fly. However, things are about to change with the introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS. Although this is a major change that could affect many travellers, most people are still not clear about what really is. So, here is a breakdown of everything you need to know about this new system and the extra steps you will have to take when planning your dream trip to Europe.

What is ETIAS?

The European Travel Information and Authorization System, also known as ETIAS, is a completely electronic authorization system that is engineered to keep track of all the visitors who are entering countries of the Schengen Zone. Introduced by the European Commission, the system is similar in purpose to the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Visitors are pre-approved after a background check to ensure that they do not present any threat. The system will also track these visitors as they move within the Schengen Zone.

Although ETIAS is referred to as a Visa, it is not exactly one and does not take much time to get approved. This means that you will be needing a proper visa to visit Europe, if your purpose of visit or your country of residence demands it. 

When does it go into effect?

The special authorization process is expected to launch on January 1, 2022. However, it will not be obligatory till the end of 2022. The first year will be considered as a transitional phase. During this period, ETIAS will be optional. After that, any travel within the Schengen region will require travel authorization.

What are the ETIAS countries?

ETIAS is needed for all the 26 Schengen Zone countries located within Europe. They include:

  • 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
  • Switzerland

Who needs to apply?

The European Travel Information and Authorization System is mainly aimed at travellers from countries who can enter the European Union without a visa. Currently, citizens from about 62 countries will require the ETIAS authorisation. This includes the U.S, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UAE, and more. It is believed that more countries will be added to the list once the system is launched and fully effective.

How to apply?

It will take you less than 10 minutes to fill out the ETIAS application. The process will be completely online and you will have to provide several information based on the country of citizenship that you choose. Once you have filled out the relevant fields, you can pay the fee and submit the application. The system will check the information you have provided and determine your eligibility based on risk factors. If you are eligible, the whole process can be completed in just a few minutes. However, if your application is flagged for some reason, then it will undergo a manual assessment that can take up to 2 weeks.

What documents are needed to apply?

In most cases you will only be needing a valid passport to apply for ETIAS. However, it should have certain features. The passport must be machine readable, should have a digital photograph, and in some cases, an electronic passport chip on the cover page. After submitting the application, additional documents can be asked for some travellers. In such a scenario, the list of additional documents will be sent to the applicant through email and they will have to submit the documents directly to the ETIAS National Unit through a secure account service. 

Can the ETIAS application be denied?

Yes, it can. Each ETIAS application undergoes a threat assessment using several databases. Watchlists from different agencies like Visa Information System (VIS), Schengen Information System (SIS), and Europol are utilized for reviewing. If any of the information provided is found to be fraudulent or if any security concerns arise, the application can get rejected. You will get a notification about the rejection and why it is rejected. All applicants have the right to appeal if their application is rejected.

How much does ETIAS cost?

The ETIAS is expected to cost around €7 (about $8) for each application. The amount is to be paid when you are submitting the application. The fee is only valid for adults above the age of 18. The under 18 visitors will not have to pay any fee. 

Do you need ETIAS if you have a Schengen Visa?

If you have a Schengen visa, then there is no need to apply for ETIAS. You can enter the Schengen Zone countries by presenting your visa to the border authorities. Once your visa has expired, you will have to apply for ETIAS. Keep in mind that ETIAS is for regulating travellers from countries that do not require a visa to enter the European Union.

How long is ETIAS valid?

An approved ETIAS is valid for 3 years. During this period, you can make as many visits as you can to any country in the Schengen Zone. However, you will have to make sure that none of the visits last more than 90 days and each visit should have a gap of at least 180 days. Also, if you have stated a specific country as your first point of entry, you can only enter through there. There are also rules to revoke or annul the travel authorization, if the conditions for issuing it are violated. Even if you have your ETIAS, it is upto the border patrol to allow your entry.

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