Planning a trip to Europe in 2023? You might have another task to add to your pre-trip to-do list. Travelers from dozens of countries will need to apply for authorization to enter the Schengen Area, a border-free zone comprised mainly of European Union (EU) countries, when a new EU visa waiver program is supposed to go into effect in late 2023. The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) will have a massive impact globally, affecting an estimated 1.4 billion travelers from countries that currently have a visa-free travel regime with the EU.

We’ve compiled the information below to address questions you may have about what ETIAS is, the application process, and how it will impact travel to Europe.

What is ETIAS?

Let’s clear up a common misconception. The ETIAS is not a visa. It is a visa waiver program, much like the US Electronic System Travel Authorization, and it is designed to bolster security and identify possible threats by screening and registering visa-free visitors to the Schengen Area.

Who will need to apply for ETIAS?

Travelers of all ages from countries who are eligible to enter the European Schengen Area without a visa will need an ETIAS travel authorization when visiting any of the Schengen member countries as well as those in the process of joining the zone. This includes transit passengers.

Note: ETIAS does not replace visas. Therefore, travelers from countries who previously needed a visa to enter a Schengen member country still need to get one. They do not have to register for an ETIAS waiver as well.

EU nationals and residents are exempt from ETIAS and can use their passport or national identity card to move around the bloc freely.

Which countries will require ETIAS?

All 26 countries in the Schengen Area – 22 of which are EU members – are participating in the program. They include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The three micro-states in the Schengen Area – Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City – as well as the four countries joining the zone – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania – will also require an ETIAS waiver from travelers who meet the condition above.

When does ETIAS go into effect?

Initially expected to launch in late 2022, ETIAS is now scheduled to take effect in November 2023. Once ETIAS has been established, there will be a six-month transition period when countries requiring travel authorization must inform citizens of the new regulation. During this time, travelers from visa-exempt countries will be allowed to cross borders without an ETIAS waiver.

What is the application process like? How is it different than applying for a visa?

The ETIAS travel authorization is a much simpler process. There are no interviews at the consulate, collection of documents, or biometric information taken. All you need to do is fill out an application online that should take less than 10 minutes. While visas generally take up to 15 days to process, you can expect an answer within minutes after submitting the application.

What information will I have to provide?

In addition to standard contact and identity information, applicants will have to provide details about their travel intention, employment history, and security-related questions (e.g., criminal history and travel to conflict areas). They also will need to upload a scanned copy of their passport and a biometric photo.

Will there be a background check?

Yes. ETIAS will cross-check visitors’ information with government databases and watch lists before authorizing them to enter the Schengen Area.

Is there a fee?

Only visitors between the ages of 18 and 70 will have to pay the €7 application fee.

What happens once I submit the application?

More than 95% of applicants will receive an approval email within minutes after submitting the application. Manual review will be necessary if an electronic application has been flagged. This can occur if the application contains errors, such as the wrong passport number being entered or if something comes up on the background check.

Will I need to reapply every time I visit the Schengen Area?

The ETIAS waiver will allow travelers to enter the Schengen region for up to 90 days within a 180-day period and can be used again and again for future trips. Once approved, an ETIAS authorization will be valid for three years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first.

How will ETIAS affect my travel experience?

Other than the pre-trip paperwork that needs to be filled out, there will be minimal impact. You can expect airlines, rail carriers, and other transport systems to carry out checks to make sure you have an ETIAS authorization before you are able to board. You should save the ETIAS confirmation letter in digital and paper format to present to border officers in the Schengen Area.

For more information about how ETIAS may impact your travel program, contact us.