ETIAS – Schengen’s version of the US ESTA


In 2020, it could be that the Schengen Zone will introduce a new travel authorisation system, which will be very similar to the ESTA system currently being used in the United States.

The system is currently in the planning phase, as of 2016. It will be known as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or ‘ETIAS’, and will serve as an alternative to a visa for visa-free nationals to travel to the Schengen Zone. The main difference here is that an EU visa is carried out individually in each member state by officials, whereas the ETIAS authorisation will be automated and centralised across the whole Schengen Zone.

We’ll include a full list of countries that will be eligible to apply for ETIAS at the bottom of this article, but as it stands it is set to include both the United Kingdom and the United States. Contrary to what it may seem, the UK’s inclusion is not a result of Brexit, but rather as an effort to enforce new security measures.

The cost of the ETIAS is expected to be €14 (around £12.30 at the time of writing). The application process will be very similar to that of the US ESTA, which is also another form of visa waiver that citizens of some 38 countries can apply for in order to travel to the United States, as tourists or on business, among other purposes.

Essentially, there are five main purposes of the ETIAS application, which largely overlap with those of the ESTA. First of all, it is intended to prevent irregular migration, by having more thorough information on visitors to the area. Secondly, it seeks to decrease crime and terrorism, by using advanced database checks and cross-referencing results internationally. Thirdly, it will generally improve the management of EU country borders, by having more across-the-board information sharing and details on movements. Fourthly, it will serve to strengthen the EU’s visa liberalisation policy, and finally it will reduce procedures and application times.

This last point is perhaps of particular relevance to travellers, as notoriously visa applications are somewhat laborious and can involve long waiting times and meetings. This is one of the notable benefits of the US ESTA system, as the whole application process only takes around ten minutes or so, and a response is provided within 24 hours. In the USA, this is the alternative to attending an in-person meeting in a US consulate or embassy, spending a considerable amount of money and waiting several weeks for a response. Nevertheless, citizens of states that do not require visas for travel purposes in the EU are not subject to long visa application processes, so in this case it is more to ensure that they do not pose any security threats.

The application itself will ask potential travellers a range of questions. First, they will need to provide proof of their ID, contact details, employment or study information, and their address. They will also be asked to indicate whether they have any infectious diseases, as is the case with the online ESTA application for the USA. Furthermore, they will need to detail any serious convictions, and reasons for travelling to any war zones or areas of conflict. Finally, applicants will also need to say which country they will be travelling to first, and provide an address for the first night of their trip.

With respect to this last requirement, the US ESTA application also asks applicants to provide the address where they will be staying during their trip. In this case, it is also possible to say ‘unknown’ in this box, as applicants do not always know where they will be staying when applying for travel authorisation, and this information can be provided at a later date.

Following an approved application, the ETIAS will allow the traveller to remain in the Schengen Zone for up to 90 days within any 180-day period. This differs a little from the ESTA, which does allow visitors to spend up to 90 days in the country, but there is no limitation as to how often they can do this (i.e. they do not have to wait another 90 days before coming back, for example, provided they are always adhering to the conditions of the ESTA and the US Visa Waiver Programme).

Another slight difference between how the ETIAS and the ESTA will operate differently is the validity period. The ESTA is valid for a period of two years, which essentially means that the passenger can travel to the United States as many times as they choose within this two-year period, for up to 90 days at a time. In turn, the ETIAS will be valid for three years, and include the limitation mentioned in the previous paragraph. Nevertheless, in both cases this validity period ends as soon as the holder’s passport expires, if this takes place first. This is because both the ETIAS and the ESTA application are directly linked to the passport used to fill in the application, and therefore if the passport changes, the travel authorisation is no longer valid and a new application needs to be filled out.

In terms of the travel purposes accepted under ETIAS, these again are essentially the same as those acceptable for travel with ESTA. Namely, visitors can travel for tourism or business purposes, in transit or for medical reasons. Things like work, seeking a working permit, study, or migration are not accepted under ETIAS or ESTA, whereby a proper visa is required.

The initiative comes from the European Commission, with an overall view to strengthening borders, enhancing security and responding to the migrant crisis. The initial steps for passing the ETIAS began in 2016, and are expected to be completed in time for it to be implemented from 2020 onwards.

As mentioned previously, the process will be automated, which is why it can be performed so quickly and affordable. Nevertheless, if any flags are raised during the database checks or in the answers to the application, the application will then be processed manually. This procedure is anticipated to take four days, but could take up to two weeks. This differs from the ESTA, whereby if any flags are raised following the application process, the authorisation is denied and the traveller needs to apply for a US visa in order to travel to the United States. For this reason, with both systems, it is always recommended to apply for the authorisation well in advance, just in case your application is not approved.

So, for now nothing is changing for Italians who are visiting the Schengen Zone, but it is useful to know that this system will likely come into force in a couple of years. Reassuringly, the ESTA system in the USA has proven to be so successful, that it seems like this is on the right path to prove beneficial to all countries involved.

ESTA, which has consistently consolidated itself since it was first implemented, has proved to be an excellent catalyst for trade and tourism, and has facilitated many Italians’ trips to the USA as a result. At the same time, it has led to much better information sharing among member countries, which in turn has boosted security and intelligence on the whole. It forms part of the Visa Waiver Program, which was set up with a view to make it easier for citizens of low-risk, high-value countries to visit the United States. Coinciding with reduced airfares and greater ease in booking trips, it has seemingly made the ‘pond’ that is the Atlantic Ocean a little smaller, and made both tourism and business trips a much simpler affair for many travellers around the world.

Countries that will be eligible to apply for ETIAS:

Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina. Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia. Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macao, Macedonia, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela

Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.

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