France ETIAS - European visa waiver for France

France has suffered from terrorist attacks in recent years and is one of a number of countries in the 28 member European Union (E.U.) which has been pushing the E.U. Commission to implement stricter border controls. A system partly based on the American ESTA visa waiver system has been proposed and may soon be the norm for anyone wanting to enter France from outside the E.U. who hasn’t needed a visa up to now.

The new France visa waiver is called the E.U. Travel and Information Authorisation System or ETIAS and was officially confirmed in November 2016. The system is not just for visitors to France, it will be for intending visitors to any of the Schengen countries, almost all of which are in the E.U.

Are you a frequent visitor to France?

If you are a frequent visitor to France or anywhere else in the E.U., the new France visa waiver or ETIAS could apply to you if:

  • You are not a citizen of the E.U.
  • You are not a citizen of one of the non E.U. Schengen countries i.e. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland,
  • You are not a citizen of one of the countries that needs a visa at present.

All citizens of the Schengen zone and the few E.U. countries that are presently not in Schengen (Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania) do not need Schengen visas and are able to freely cross all borders. The France visa waiver or ETIAS will not apply to this group. This situation may change for British citizens fairly soon because of the recent BREXIT vote and the negotiations pending for Britain’s departure from the E.U.

If you are an American, Canadian, Australian or anyone else from a list of 54 countries, you haven’t needed to apply for a Schengen visa up to now for a stay not exceeding 90 days in any 180 day period. It is this group that the ETIAS will apply to. The E.U. authorities wish to obtain information which can be shared between member states about anyone who wishes to visit Europe in this group. At present, this does not happen and anyone from a visa waiver country can basically just turn up at a border post at one of the Schengen countries and automatically get 90 days anywhere within Schengen.

If you are a citizen of Colombia, South Africa, Turkey, Thailand, or any other country not in the last two groups above you currently need to obtain a visa before you land in France or any other Schengen country. This situation is at present unlikely to change with the introduction of the France visa waiver or ETIAS. That means that you will still need to apply for a Schengen visa in the normal way.

How will the ETIAS system work?

The way ETIAS is expected to work is similar to the way anyone from a visa waiver country applies for an American ESTA (electronic system for travel authorisation). This was introduced a few years ago for very similar reasons as the ETIAS. The U.S. had suffered a terrible attack on its own soil (9 / 11) and put in place several strategies to make its borders more secure. The only problem was that the existing visa application process was quite unwieldy and often meant delays in bona fide business and tourist trips to the U.S. The solution was to streamline the application process for citizens of what were regarded as ‘less risky’ nations, and at the same time make full visa applicants jump through more hoops before they could get their visas.

One of the few differences between the ETIAS and the ESTA is that the new ETIAS will apply to many more people than the American one. At the same time, the amount of information it will provide, which was non-existent before, will also be much greater.

It will be expected that ETIAS applicants will apply online before they intend visiting Europe. They will need to provide a certain amount of information about themselves and pay a €5 fee before they are granted a five-year long, multiple entry, authorisation. Applicants under the age of 18 will not need to pay the €5 fee. 

The U.S. is not the only country to devise an electronic pre- travel authorisation. Canada followed suit this year with a very similar electronic travel authorisation (eTA).

Isn’t the France visa waiver just about money?

Some people have suggested that one of the reasons that the European ETIAS is now being pushed is because the E.U. coffers are not as full as they once were. The fees from the ETIAS applications will go directly to the E.U. Commission yet the small fee of €5 for individuals over the age of 18 will hardly raise many eyebrows. Europe remains a very popular place to visit, so it is unlikely that the new system will have much effect on the numbers of people who still intend to travel there.