If you’re a UK national planning to take a short trip to a European country, or wanting to travel around Europe, under current rules you don’t need to apply for a visa however, in most cases, you will soon need electronic travel authorisation in the form of an ETIAS visa waiver.
In this guide for British travellers, we explain the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System, and the rules relating to European travel for non-EU nationals.
What is ETIAS?
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is a new form of electronic travel authorisation designed to monitor previously unscreened visitors from countries, including the UK, who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Area.
The Schengen Area refers to a borderless travel zone in Europe, where the countries that make up this region acknowledge the abolishment of their internal borders with all other member countries, allowing people to travel passport-free. These include the following 22 European countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. The following 4 non-EU member states, and 3 micro-states, also form part of the Schengen area: Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, as well as Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City.
Additionally, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania are currently going through the process of becoming Schengen member countries, where eligible third-country nationals will also require ETIAS approval to travel to any one of these countries.
As the rules currently stand, nationals of countries entitled to visa-free travel across Europe, including UK nationals, are not screened in advance of travelling. Under ETIAS, UK and other non-EU travellers who do not need a visa to visit Europe will require electronic travel authorisation prior to travelling to a Schengen member country by either air, land or sea.
The purpose of this new system is to protect and strengthen European borders. By cross-checking traveller’s information against a series of online security databases, this will help to identify possible threats or risks associated with visitors passing through EU borders who do not require a visa to travel to any of the Schengen Area countries. The new visa waiver programme in many ways will resemble the well-known US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which serves a very similar purpose, although ETIAS for Europe will grant eligible travellers the authorisation to visit all accepted Schengen member countries.
ETIAS is essentially designed to pre-screen travellers from visa-exempt countries to detect security, health or migration risks, and to improve border security and immigration control upon arrival in European territories. ETIAS is not a form of visa, but it will soon become an essential document to travel to most parts of Europe where all eligible travellers, including minors, will need to register through ETIAS to visit a Schengen member country. Since Brexit, which ended free movement between the UK and EU, British passport holders are classed as non-EU citizens and, as with other third-country nationals, will soon need to obtain ETIAS approval to visit any country falling within the Schengen Area.
What will an ETIAS visa waiver allow and not allow?
The ETIAS visa waiver will grant UK tourists and business travellers the necessary authorisation to visit any one, or more, of the Schengen member countries for up to 90 days within a period of 180 days for the purposes of transit, tourism or business travel. ETIAS is essentially designed for short-term stays for the following limited purposes:
- transiting various different Schengen countries
- sightseeing or taking a holiday in one or more of the Schengen countries
- visiting friends and family residing in a Schengen country
- seeking medical treatment or medical care in a Schengen country
- attending work-related conferences, seminars or meetings in a Schengen country.
After entering the Schengen zone under an ETIAS visa waiver, visitors will be able to move freely between Schengen countries. However, anyone wishing to travel to the Schengen Area to undertake paid work, or to study or reside there, will need to apply for a visa.
Who will be eligible to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver?
There are more than 60 countries that do not require a visa to travel to the Schengen Area. Once ETIAS is in force, this means that nationals from any one of these countries, including UK nationals, will be eligible for an ETIAS visa waiver when visiting a Schengen member country. However, ETIAS may be available to more countries in the future.
To meet the ETIAS eligibility requirements, travellers must be a national of a non-EU visa-exempt country and visiting Europe for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. They must also be travelling for tourism, business or other visa-exempt purposes.
Third-country nationals who require a Schengen visa will not be eligible for an ETIAS visa waiver. The Schengen visa is a short-stay visa allowing certain foreign nationals to temporarily travel to European countries within the Schengen Area. This will allow a visitor to enter and stay in a Schengen member country, or to travel freely within the Schengen Area, for a variety of different purposes, including tourism and business. This means that if you are a non-EU national living in the UK but planning to take a short trip to Europe, and you are not eligible for visa-free travel, you will not be eligible for an ETIAS visa waiver and must instead obtain a Schengen visa prior to travel. Any UK citizens who do not meet the ETIAS eligibility requirements must also hold a valid visa to travel to Europe.
Importantly, EU countries that are not Schengen member countries all have their own entry requirements for which separate visas may need to be sought. These countries include Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Ireland, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.
When will ETIAS visa waivers become mandatory?
The European Parliament approved the ETIAS progamme back in 2016, but this is still not yet in force. It was originally anticipated that ETIAS would take approximately 5 years to become fully operational, by the end of 2021. However, according to official EU sources, ETIAS is now scheduled to come into operation in 2024.
Once the ETIAS system comes into force, obtaining electronic travel authorisation will become a mandatory entry requirement for nationals from all ETIAS eligible countries, although there could first be an implementation period of at least 6 months before this becomes obligatory. During any transitional period, applying for ETIAS would be optional, allowing travellers and carriers additional time to adapt to the new system.
Still, UK travellers, as well as any other visitors who do not need a visa to travel to a Schengen member country, should be prepared by the end of next year to register online for ETIAS travel authorisation. This is because, even though registering online is unlikely to be compulsory in the first few months, it will be encouraged. Importantly, any ETIAS grace period has not yet been confirmed, so travellers should keep checking the official website.
Schengen member countries are expected to start publishing information about the new travel authorisation from 2023 into 2024, where passengers are likely to be provided with leaflets at Schengen border checkpoints. These leaflets, providing ETIAS information to travellers, should also be distributed to all of the embassies and consulates of the Schengen member countries where mandatory ETIAS registration will apply.
What will be the process to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver?
Even though ETIAS will become a new entry requirement for travelling to all Schengen member countries, it should only take travellers a few minutes to complete the online ETIAS registration form. An applicant will simply need an internet connection and a device on which to complete the form, such as a tablet or computer, together with a valid biometric passport, an email address, plus a debit or credit card with which to pay the ETIAS fee. An applicant must hold a valid passport with a validity period of a minimum of three months beyond the expected period of stay in the Schengen Area.
Described as “a necessary and small procedural step” to improve border security, the system has been set up to electronically determine the eligibility of citizens from visa-exempt countries by cross-checking traveller’s information against a series of EU and international security databases, including Europol and Interpol. As such, most applications for an ETIAS visa waiver should be approved shortly after being submitted, where the applicant will not usually need to attend an interview, and biometric data will not need to be enrolled.
To complete an ETIAS application, once the new system is in force, travellers must provide their personal information, as well as their travel details and passport information. Each applicant must also answer a series of security questions relating to their health status, their criminal background and if they have recently visited any conflict zones. In this way, ETIAS will screen travellers prior to visiting a country within the Schengen Area, to determine whether or not a citizen can enter the area without posing any risks. The system will check the information provided and the applicant’s eligibility, as well as any risk factors.
The form should take no more than 10 minutes to complete and most ETIAS applications should be processed within a matter of minutes. However, even though most applications will be approved automatically, where there are possible grounds for refusal or the accuracy of the information given needs to be verified, some applications might be manually reviewed. In these cases, it could take up to 4 weeks for an application to be processed. If an application has been refused, the applicant might be asked for additional documentation. In the case of ETIAS denial, the applicant has the right to appeal.
If ETIAS is denied, the applicant will not be able to travel to a Schengen member country without a visa. This is because ETIAS approval will be requested by carriers prior to travel. Even with ETIAS approval, the final decision to grant entry to the Schengen Area will be made by border officials after they have reviewed the validity of the ETIAS visa waiver.
Importantly, ETIAS is not currently in operation. This means that applications for travel authorisations are not being accepted at this point. When ETIAS comes into effect, applicants will be able to apply via the official website.
How much will it cost to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver?
To submit an ETIAS application, a fee must be paid. If the payment is not completed, the application will not be processed. However, the cost is currently estimated to be just €7 euros for anyone aged 18 to 70. For under 18s, and over 70’s, a fee will not be applicable.
Paying the fee is the final part of the ETIAS application process. Once the fee has been paid with either a debit or credit card, the application will then be automatically submitted and reviewed. Any other payment methods available should be specified at a later stage. The ETIAS system will assess the application, and once this has been approved, the applicant will be notified via the email address that they have provided.
If the application payment is unsuccessful or declined, the application for ETIAS approval will be put on hold. All applicants are advised to make sure that they have sufficient funds to cover the fee, that their payment card has not been blocked and that there are no internet connection problems preventing completion of the online transaction.
How long will an ETIAS visa waiver remain valid for?
The ETIAS visa waiver will allow eligible travellers to enter the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. This authorisation will also be valid for 3 consecutive years, or until the traveller’s passport expires, whichever comes first.
After an ETIAS visa waiver runs out, it will be necessary to apply for an ETIAS renewal in order to re-enter any of the Schengen member countries.
Do I need ETIAS in 2023?
The European Parliament approved the European Travel Information and Authorisation System in 2016, but this is still not yet in force. ETIAS is now scheduled to come into operation in 2024, although it may not become mandatory immediately.
Is ETIAS mandatory now?
ETIAS is currently scheduled to come into operation in 2024.
Will UK citizens need ETIAS?
Once ETIAS comes into force, UK citizens will be required to obtain travel authorisation under ETIAS to be able to travel to most European countries. However, there may be a 6-month grace period before becoming mandatory.
Do I need a ETIAS to enter Europe?
You do not currently need an ETIAS to enter the Schengen Area in Europe. However, nationals from visa-exempt countries will need approval under the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) once the system is live.
Last updated: 31 May 2023