Map of Europe. (Photo via iStock/Getty Images E+/wsfurlan)
Following two years of fluctuating COVID-related entry rules and border restrictions, U.S. travelers planning to visit Europe will find themselves confronted with some fresh requirements by this time next year—although, completely unrelated to the pandemic.
By next spring, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) will implement mandatory registration for international visitors and begin charging a fee of €7 (about $7.40) to foreign travelers to visit most European countries.
Although the charge has been called a “visitor tax”, it’s actually an application fee for travelers applying for an ETIAS authorization that will be needed to enter any of the 26 nations of the E.U. and Schengen area on stays of up to 90 days. The stated purpose of the mandatory registration, pre-screening and associated fees is to help strengthen the region’s border security.
The ETIAS system only applies to travelers who are entering from one of the 62 foreign countries that currently enjoy visa-free access to the E.U. and Schengen member nations, including the U.S. Those who have to obtain a visa in order to visit won’t need to worry about applying through ETIAS.
It’s similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) automated system, which determines the eligibility of non-nationals traveling under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to enter the United States.
Likewise, ETIAS will use technology to register, pre-screen and monitor foreign visitors, with software cross-checking their profiles against government watchlists and databases before issuing entry authorizations. This is intended to add another layer of protection against threats like crime, terrorism and “irregular migration”. Visitor information that’s collected in the process will also go toward data-tracking for business and tourism purposes.
According to The Points Guy, Jean-Claude Juncker, who was European Commission President when ETIAS was first announced in 2016, remarked at the time, “We need to know who is crossing our borders. This way we will know who is traveling to Europe before they even get here.”
While this new pre-travel authorization system has been in the works for years after suffering some delays, ETIAS now plans to be in full operational swing by May 2023.
Visa-free travelers will be required to register their information and answer a few background questions through the ETIAS online portal, then await authorization prior to departing for their destination. For most applicants, travel approval should take no more than a few minutes. If an applicant’s registration gets flagged, however, it must be manually reviewed. There is also an appeal process if one’s application were to be denied.
Once the system is up and running, airlines and other transportation providers will be required to verify passengers’ ETIAS authorization status before permitting them to board. Visa-free visitors seeking entry at land borders will also have access to an electronic kiosk, where they can complete their application.