Updated December 6, 2023
Did you know the requirements to travel to Europe are changing?
Yep, that’s right. Starting in 2025 (the exact date is still to be determined) visitors from countries that don’t require a visa to visit Europe will need to apply for and receive a pre-authorization under the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) before you hop on that flight to Europe.
Once it’s in place, all American travelers, as well as citizens of the 60 countries that are exempt from the Schengen area visa requirement, will need to register under the ETIAS system to visit most European Union member states. If you don’t, you’ll be denied entry at the border.
What exactly is the ETIAS travel authorization?
To help identify and reduce threats before they reach Europe’s borders, the European Commission has put this new registration program in place. The idea is to pre-identify potential risks or threats linked to incoming travelers before they arrive at the border.
It was originally supposed to go into effect in 2021, and was then postponed until 2023. After additional delays, it’s now on track to go into effect in 2024.
Once it’s in place, all US citizens who want to explore the Schengen Zone - home to 27 European countries - plus 3 additional countries in the process of joining the Schengen zone, will need to register under ETIAS when they plan a trip to travel to Europe.
Which countries require ETIAS registration?
If you don’t need a Schengen Visa and plan to enter any country that belongs to Europe’s Schengen Zone, you’ll need ETIAS authorization. The Schengen Zone is currently made up of most EU states except Ireland. That means you need to register before entering the following 30 European countries:
You’ll also need to receive ETIAS before traveling to the micro-states of Monaco (entering from France), San Marino (entering from Italy), and Vatican City (entering from Italy).
If you're entering the territory of an EU member state or Schengen area country, such as the Azores, which are part of Portugal, you will need an ETIAS.
Ireland is an EU country, but not a Schengen country so does not require ETIAS approval.
You also don’t need ETIAS to enter the United Kingdom, including England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The UK is also in the process of creating their own Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). The ETA is also expected to go into effect by the end of 2024, and the process will be similar to ETIAS travel authorisation.
As of this time you don’t need ETIAS to enter Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Türkiye, or Ukraine.
If you hold dual citizenship, so are an ETIAS country passport holder, you don't need an ETIAS as long as you enter and exit the Schengen area countries using your European passport. EU citizens don't need an ETIAS or visa to visit other EU member countries.
Who needs to register for ETIAS?
American citizens, along with citizens of 60 other visa-exempt countries, will need an ETIAS visa waiver for short trips to any Schengen-zone country.
All travelers from visa-exempt countries, regardless of age, must get the ETIAS authorization before they start their trip.
What’s the process and how much does it cost?
The application process is not available yet, but when it is it will only be via the official EU website. Any other website that offers ETIAS application services is not the official EU site, and will be transmitting your information to the official ETIAS website. The official site is not licensing any other sites to process applications, so it’s best to just go through the official website.
The application will be completed online and will require a valid passport, an active email address, and a credit or debit card to process the non-refundable €7 fee.
Any applicant between the ages of 18-70 will need to pay for the application. The €7 fee is waived for applicants under 18 or over 70, but the ETIAS application still needs to be completed and ETAIS authorization received prior to travel.
What information is required?
You’ll need to provide personal information, like passport information, your current address, and your occupation. There will also be questions about past travel, including travel to conflict zones, and questions about any prior criminal convictions.
Contrary to some information that has been published, the ETIAS process will not request any information about health or vaccination status, or any biometric data like fingerprints.
You will also need to provide information about the country you will enter Europe through. According to the official ETIAS website, once you have your authorization in hand you can modify your travel plans, but don't change them while the approval is still in process.
That means you can apply and receive your authorization without confirmed plans if you'd like to have it ready. This can be handy in the event of unexpected travel or a great last-minute flight deal.
What is the application process?
Once your application has been submitted, you’ll receive a response via email. Most applications are processed within a few minutes.
For a small number of applicants, additional information may be requested. If additional information or documentation is required, it may take up to 30 days to receive a reply, so make sure to allow sufficient time.
If your ETIAS application is denied, there will be an appeal process available. The ETIAS is also not a guarantee of entry into Europe, and the border guards still have the final say on whether or not any individual is allowed to enter their country.
Do I need an ETIAS each time I travel?
Yes and no. You need a valid ETIAS for every entry into the Schengen Zone, but the ETIAS is valid for multiple entries.
Once you have your ETIAS authorization it is valid for three years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Since it is tied to your passport information, if you get a new passport for any reason you’ll need to get a new ETIAS.
If you have more than one passport (not common, but a second passport can be issued for a variety of reasons), you’ll need to enter and exit the Schengen area using the passport that your ETIAS is tied to.
The ETIAS is only for travelers on short-term stays, less than 90 days out of every rolling 180 days. If you’ll be studying or working in Europe, you’ll still need to apply for the correct work or study visa for the country you’ll be in.
Is the ETIAS a visa?
No, the ETIAS is not a visa. It’s a travel authorization for visa-free travelers, similar to the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
ETIAS is a pre-screening process for travellers who don’t require a Schengen Visa. A visa requires a much longer and more in-depth process to get, including the submission of fingerprints, an in-person application through a consulate, and also usually includes an extensive waiting period while the visa is processed.
Does the process require biometric data?
The ETIAS application process does not require biometric data, like fingerprints, to be submitted.
A second system, the Entry/Exit System (EES) is also being rolled out in conjunction with ETIAS. The EES does require biometric data, both a facial scan and fingerprints. It is an electronic entry system that scans your passport and then verifies your identity using that biometric data, and replaces the manual stamping of your passport by a border guard.
The EES has to be in place prior to the rollout of ETIAS, which is part of the reason ETIAS has been delayed. EES does not require any pre-registration.
Can I stay in Europe for longer than 90 days with ETIAS?
No, you can’t stay in the Schengen area for longer than 90 out of a rolling 180 days, including the day you enter and the day you exit.
Actually, you’ve never been able to stay longer than 90 days legally, unless you hold a visa that allows it. The EES (Entry/Exit System) is part of Europe’s effort to stop non-visa holders from overstaying the 90 out of 180 days requirement.
If you’ve ever stayed longer than 90 days, or heard stories from people who say “I just decided to stay in France for four months and it was magical…” it’s actually illegal and can result in you being banned from entering any European country.
Northern European countries, like the Scandinavian countries and Germany, have always been known for being very strict with the 90 out of 180 days requirement. I’ve entered and exited Germany many times in the last couple of years, and it’s normal for the border guard to ask the entry date, then look for the entry stamp so they could put the exit stamp right next to it.
Southern European countries have a reputation for being much more relaxed about the amount of time spent in the Schengen Zone, but that doesn’t make it ok to overstay. The EES will remove that variance between countries, automatically flagging passports for any traveler who overstays, even by a day.
If you travel frequently or take longer trips, make sure you keep track of the days you spend in the Schengen Zone and don’t overstay the 90 out of 180 days. Also keep in mind that it’s a rolling 180 days, so you can’t stay 6 months and think that covers two different 180-day periods.
The bottom line
ETIAS isn’t active yet, so right now there’s nothing you need to do. Once ETIAS is in place you’ll need to apply and get your ETIAS authorization before you start your trip.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or immigration professional, and the information in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. Girasole Travel offers travel planning services, and does not provide any assistance in securing visas or travel authorizations. Information is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of the date of publication, August 11, 2023, and updated December 6, 2023.