Like the rest of Europe, Latvia is expected to use the new ETIAS travel authorisation system in three and a half years’ time. The E.U. Commission has just announced that the ETIAS proposals should be finalised and the infrastructure prepared so that it will be ready by the beginning of 2020. The Commission also agreed on a uniform flat fee for every applicant. This will be €5, which will make it cheaper than the U.S. equivalent, the ESTA. The Commission also announced that the ETIAS online application, once it is approved, should last 5 years before another one is needed.
Latvia is part of Schengen
Latvia, like most of the E.U. members is a dual member of the E.U. and Schengen. Schengen is designed to provide uniform border rules for all its members, while the E.U membership involves many more things than just immigration. Every Latvian is able to travel freely in any other E.U. and Schengen country as the citizens of these countries can do in Latvia. But any non E.U. citizen is restricted in some way, and in most cases is only allowed to stay for a maximum of 90 days in the entire Schengen zone.
Up to now it hasn’t been necessary for many non E.U. passport holders to apply for permission in advance, but that is what is going to change with the introduction of the ETIAS. It is hoped that the ETIAS system will allow authorities to scrutinise more closely who is arriving in Europe in advance to deter criminals and potential terrorists in particular.
Why visit Latvia?
It would be probably fair to say that Latvia is not overcrowded with tourists; but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting. One of the attractions is that it is off the tourist circuit! Latvia is quite a small country on the Baltic coast sandwiched between Estonia, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia and its geography has determined its history, like so many other small European states.
The capital of Latvia, Riga, is probably the main draw card. The city is a World Heritage site with its well preserved mediaeval buildings. There are also other urban areas of interest, like Cesis and its castle and Karosta with its secret military history. What many visitors do not realise just how nice many of Latvia’ beaches are. Because of the low tourist numbers these remain uncrowded although best appreciated in summer. Latvia also has a lot of forest and a huge waterfall at Kuldiga (Europe’s widest).
Who will need a Latvia ETIAS visa waiver in 2020?
The ETIAS arrangement is not a full visa, it is more like a “visa waiver”. In fact; it is very similar to other travel authorisations like the one you need to enter the U.S., Canada or Australia. You apply online in advance (72 hours is the quoted figure) and pay the €5 fee and, assuming that you are granted entry, get the ETIAS authorisation which will last 5 years. It will only apply to non European Union passport holders who currently do not need a visa to travel to Europe. If you are an American or Japanese passport holder, for instance, you will need to get an ETIAS approval once the whole thing is officially introduced. There are also many other people who will still have to apply in advance for a full Schengen visa. Their status doesn’t look at this stage that it will change.