Many people outside Europe have been reading about impending changes in the rules for visiting that part of the world. Even Britons, who are some of the most numerous visitors to favourite destinations in Europe like France, Spain and Italy, have learned that they may be affected by the new system which is expected to be rolled out in 2020. So, what is the new European visa waiver system all about and who will be affected?
For a start, the E.U. Travel and Information Authorisation System or ETIAS is not actually a visa, and is technically the first ever attempt at creating a European visa waiver. It will involve filling in an online application with over 18 year-olds paying €7 fee before arriving in one of the European Schengen countries. If your ETIAS is approved, its all you will need when you arrive along with your passport or travel document. You will be allowed to stay for 90 days in any period of 180 days and you will be allowed to travel freely across the Schengen zone. This is very much like the way the U.S. operates with its visa waiver system for bona fide travellers called the ESTA. Canada has also recently joined the bandwagon and brought out a visa waiver system of its own called the eTA.
So will I need to apply for a Spain visa waiver?
Just because of the new changes it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be affected. It all depends on which country you are a citizen of and, if you are British, exactly how the Brexit negotiations pan out over the next few months. Basically, the spain visa waiver or ETIAS will apply to anyone who hasn’t needed to apply for a visa in advance up to now, unless they are a citizen of the E.U. or one of the four non E.U. countries that are in Schengen. There are about 54 countries that could be affected. That list includes the U.S., Canada, many of the Latin American countries, Japan and Malaysia, just to mention a few.
If you have needed a Schengen visa up to now before you visit Europe, it seems that you will still need one and you will not be involved in the new ETIAS arrangements.
Remind me – what’s the difference between the E.U. and Schengen?
That’s a good question and for many non-Europeans who visit Europe regularly it still remains a bit of a mystery. Basically, the Schengen zone or Schengen countries have common border regulations, which permit free travel within the zone but prevent anyone else from staying too long without permission. In fact, nearly all the Schengen countries are also part of the E.U. (the exceptions are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).
There are also some countries that are in the E.U. but are not in Schengen (Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus). Britain and Ireland wanted to opt out because they wanted more control over who entered their countries.
How much will a Spain visa waiver cost?
The E.U. Commission, which exists to make rules about what affects the E.U., has confirmed the details of the ETIAS system in November 2016. Most regular visitors are hoping that it will only cost about the same as the American ESTA, which is $14 or about €11, but it was announced to cost €7 for individuals over the age of 18 and free for those under the age of 18.
The ETIAS for Spain will last for a period of 3 years, or the date of passport expiry, whichever comes first. The American version, the ESTA, is valid for 2 years once it has been issued, although that doesn’t mean that you can stay in the U.S. for that long. You only get 90 days even if you have been issued with an ESTA. Once you have been out of the U.S. for an additional 90 days, you can then return for another visit using the same ESTA. The Spain visa waiver might work the same way. We shall have to wait and see what is decided.
Why is there all this fuss about travel authorisations all of a sudden?
The idea of something like the ETIAS has been around for several years, but nothing much came of it until the recent round of bombings and terrorist attacks, coupled with an unprecedented refugee crisis. The Schengen zone countries have been generally quite satisfied with what the rules have been up to now, especially the ability to move freely from one country to the next without having to bother to show passports. However, there has been a feeling that things have been much too lax. It has been thought that some rather unsavoury people have been slipping into Europe because of the lack of control over who is allowed to get in.
Basically, the main argument for the spain visa waiver (ETIAS) is that it will allow authorities to vet visitors before they show up. If there is anything suspicious about them, they won’t be allowed to come to Europe, or they may be asked to apply for a full visa instead. There will also be a lot of information made available that will be shared between the Schengen zone which it is hoped will improve the future security situation.