The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is being implemented gradually by the European Union in order to protect and improve safety and security within the Schengen Area.

ETIAS is a visa waiver program with similar objectives to the American ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization, part of the US Visa Waiver program).The European ESTA visa waiver, or ETIAS, is designed to pre-screen visa-exempt travelers who wish to enter the Schengen Area, while the ESTA pre-screens those who travel to the US visa-free.

The information gathered by both ETIAS and ESTA is cross-checked through multiple international databases and bears similarity as well.

Data required to apply for an ETIAS, or an ESTA includes:

  • The traveler’s personal information (name, date and place of birth).
  • Passport information (number, country and date of issuance, as well as the expiration date).
  • Contact information (email address, mobile phone number).
  • Questions pertaining to previous travel, criminal history, and health.

Furthermore, both the ESTA for Europe and the ESTA for the United States can be obtained online, via a web form.

Electronic processing of both the EU ESTA, and the US ESTA eliminates the need to visit an embassy or consulate, and considerably shortens processing time when compared to a traditional consular visa.

Just like European business travelers who frequently visit the US on an ESTA, American businesspeople will also be required to obtain an ETIAS to enter Europe for short trips.

Similarly, ETIAS —Europe’s ESTA— will be a mandatory entry requirement for tourists and those who visit Europe for leisure, or to attend a conference.

The ETIAS visa waiver application form will be quick and easy to complete once the applicant has the requirements for an ESTA for Europe at hand. Applicants must have the following ETIAS requirements when filling out their ETIAS request:

  • A valid passport, with at least 6 months of validity remaining past the intended travel dates
  • An email address, where the applicant can receive notifications regarding their request, as well as the ETIAS, once the travel authorization is granted
  • A credit or debit card to cover the online fees for Europe’s ESTA

ETIAS: a new travel tax?

With the approval of the EU ESTA, or ETIAS by the European Commission came reactions claiming it was a new travel tax for Europe, as was the original purpose of the ESTA.

However, the ETIAS Europe proposal was made by the EU in 2016 as part of several new measures to increase security and safety for the Schengen Zone countries. The EU ESTA will see a new system put in place for travelers who currently do not require a visa to enter Europe.

The EU ESTA is scheduled to become available to the public in late 2022. After an initial grace period, it will become mandatory for all citizens who previously did not require a visa to visit the EU. This will include US citizens who will be eligible to apply for an ETIAS for Americans from 2022 via an online application.

Similarly, the US ESTA is a visa waiver scheme that grants travelers from countries whose citizens do not need a visa entry in the US, without the hassle of having to visit an embassy or consulate for a traditional visa.

The ETIAS or European ESTA will be a similar program to the US ESTA that will allow travelers from ETIAS-eligible countries to visit all EU Schengen member states with just a single travel authorization.

Those who may likely be most affected by the European ESTA system are citizens of the UK once the Brexit negotiation is complete.

If there is no special legislation set for UK citizens to continue enjoying border-free travel throughout Europe, British nationals wishing to visit the Schengen zone will also need to apply online for an ETIAS travel authorization and pay the corresponding travel visa waiver fee.

ETIAS versus ESTA

Apart from the simple difference of the price tag and the fact that the ESTA is for travelers to the US and ETIAS for travelers to the EU, the systems are relatively similar and will both use an online application system for potential travelers to register before departing.

Both travel authorization schemes will process applicants based on their contact and passport information as well as the individual responses given to certain health and security questions.

The differences between the ESTA and ETIAS have more to do with the conditions of each visa waiver. Both travel authorizations are multiple-entry travel authorizations but the ETIAS for Europe will be valid for 3 years once confirmed, paid and approved via the electronic European visa waiver system, whereas the ESTA is only valid for 2 years until a renewal is required.

For more information on the ETIAS visa waiver which will come into effect from 2022 onwards, check out these questions about ETIAS to get to grips with the new travel authorization necessary for Europe.