Are you already pondering your vacation plans for next summer? If Europe is among your top considerations, there might be an extra step to take before you board that flight.
Commencing in 2024, American passport holders intending to travel to 30 European countries will be required to obtain authorization through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).
While it might sound complex, understanding the ETIAS and its rationale is akin to comprehending existing travel prerequisites; they mirror mounting concerns over terrorism across the United States, Europe, and the globe.
Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know.
What is ETIAS? Is it a Visa?
Though some media outlets might refer to this as a visa, the ETIAS is better described as a travel authorization form.
“It’s certainly not a visa,” noted Dan Hamilton, a senior non-resident fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “It’s an electronic entry-point, an authorization for countries that are currently visa-free.”
Even the European Commission emphasizes this point, affirming that the ETIAS is “not a visa,” but rather an “automated IT system,” in a press release regarding its discussions back in 2018.
In essence, the ETIAS form isn’t intended for those seeking to work or reside in Europe; rather, it’s mandatory for short-term visits, allowing stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
Why is it Being Implemented?
These new prerequisites have been in development for years, originating from heightened terrorism concerns post 9/11. The concept closely resembles the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program, which the United States introduced in 2008.
At the core of ETIAS is an electronic database system aimed at improved tracking of travelers. According to the latest terrorism data from the EU, law enforcement authorities apprehended around 388 suspects for terrorism-related offenses in 2021, with over half accused of links to foreign-based jihadist groups.
The European Commission suggests that ETIAS could also help reduce “irregular migration” (illegal immigration), though discouraging tourism isn’t its intent. Despite challenges like overcrowded cities and inflated airfare, many European countries heavily rely on tourism revenues to rebound from pandemic setbacks.
The pandemic also contributed to this requirement’s delay by several years, as countries closed their borders amid COVID-19 concerns.
When Does it Take Effect?
While the European Union’s website indicates that the new authorization will start in 2024, a specific date remains unclear. Neither did a spokesperson for the union’s travel arm respond to NPR’s request for information. Likewise, the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson mentioned that their website would be updated “once the regulation goes into effect.”
“I’d be surprised if this starts on time,” expressed Hamilton. The rollout of ETIAS has already faced delays.
However, considering travel plans for 2024? Planning ahead couldn’t hurt.
Who Needs to Apply for ETIAS Approval?
Essentially, passport holders from 60 countries eligible for visa-free travel to most European destinations — including Americans — will need ETIAS authorization. The European Union estimates this encompasses around 1.4 billion individuals.
The list of impacted destinations includes 30 European countries, including those in the “Schengen Area” — 27 European Union countries that eased border restrictions to facilitate movement within Europe.
Popular vacation spots like France, Italy, and Spain fall within these Schengen countries.
The remaining three countries on the list — Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus — aim to become part of the Schengen Area soon.
How Can You Apply for ETIAS Approval? Is There a Cost?
While the application isn’t open yet, the European Union will allow necessary forms to be filled out via a web portal or mobile phone application.
Applicants will share personal information, such as date of birth, parents’ names, occupation details, previous criminal convictions, and an unexpired passport.
A fee of 7 euros (approximately $8) is required.
When is the Right Time to Apply?
For those preferring to be cautious, applying well in advance of your trip — ideally at least a month before — is advisable.
ETIAS claims most applications “are processed within minutes,” with decisions delivered within four days. However, if additional information is requested, the wait could extend to 14 days, and up to 30 days if an interview is required.
ETIAS approval remains valid for three years or until the passport used in the application expires.
Abiding by ETIAS rules during your visit is imperative. Approval allows a stay of up to 90 days within any 180-day period, meaning you can leave and return but can’t continuously stay for 91 days or more.
What Happens if You Don’t Apply for ETIAS?
ETIAS approval is linked to your passport; without it, you won’t be allowed to board flights or other forms of transportation.
In other words, that dream European vacation might have to wait.
This article was originally published on NPR. All rights reserved.