Schengen Visa vs. ETIAS: A Comparison Guide


Due to be introduced in 2025, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) remains the subject of some confusion. Travellers are perplexed as to whether they will need ETIAS or the Schengen Visa to travel within the greater European area. ETIAS is a new electronic travel authorisation that is for travellers who currently can travel to Europe without a visa. The Schengen Visa, on the other hand, is a visa that is currently required for travel to Europe for travellers are unable to travel to EU countries without a visa. This article discusses the differences between ETIAS and Schengen Visas.

ETIAS Overview

The new European Travel Information and Authorisation System was first proposed in 2016 with the intention of strengthening travel security to Europe and the Schengen area from countries that currently require no visa for such travel. Ranging from Albania to Venezuela, there are currently 60 countries that are not in the European Union but whose citizens can travel freely to and within Europe without a visa. This means that citizens of these countries presently require just a valid passport to visit Europe and background information on these visitors is minimal or non-existent.

With ETIAS, intending visitors will have to complete a detailed online form and provide personal information, including criminal records and visits to world conflict areas, to apply for ETIAS approval to travel to Europe. ETIAS applications are checked through numerous databases, including Interpol and Europol, before approval. Once an application is approved, the ETIAS is electronically attached to the applicant’s passport and is valid for three years or until the passport expires.

The Schengen Visa

The Schengen area is often confused with the European Union but there is a significant difference between the two. There are 27 countries belonging to the Schengen area and most all of these are also members of the European Union. Five exceptions are:

These six are European Union members but not part of the Schengen area group although Bulgaria and Romania are in the process of joining.

Conversely, the following countries are part of the Schengen area but not members of the European Union:

Citizens of both Schengen area countries and European member states enjoy freedom of movement through both and do not require either ETIAS or Schengen Visas to travel in Europe.

ETIAS versus Schengen Visa

Citizens of the 60 countries who currently do not require a visa of any sort to travel to Europe will need authority to visit when ETIAS comes into being in 2025. That authorisation will either be in the form of ETIAS or a Schengen Visa. It is an either/or situation or ETIAS versus Schengen.

Put simply, visitors to Europe who have ETIAS do not need a Schengen Visa. Those who are not eligible for, or don’t have, ETIAS must hold a Schengen Visa.

The Key Difference between ETIAS and Schengen Visas

ETIAS is an electronic system linked to the traveller’s passport which allows him or her to enter and travel within the European Union but not necessarily the Schengen area if the passport holder is not an EU citizen.

A Schengen Visa is entered manually into the passport and allows travel within the 27 member states. However, unlike ETIAS which allows travel throughout Europe, a Schengen Visa is specific to the country applied for and not necessarily valid for other Schengen countries. In the case of a visitor wishing to visit two or more Schengen countries it is necessary to apply for a visa at the embassy of the country in which most time will be spent. The Schengen visa allows a maximum stay of 90 days in the six month period following the first day of entry.

Application for ETIAS or a Schengen Visa

An application for ETIAS is filled out online in about twenty minutes. The form requires basic personal information but also details regarding any world conflict zones visited and any criminal record. The first destination country in Europe must also be specified. After a thorough check through numerous databases of the details supplied, an acceptance or rejection is usually returned within minutes although a manual check can take a number of weeks. Payment, currently set at seven euro, must accompany the application.

An application for a Schengen Visa, on the other hand, must be done in person at the embassy or consulate of the destination country. As the process is not automated, it can take six weeks or more before the visa is issued. Other requirements when applying for a Schengen Visa are:

  • The passport must have a minimum of two blank pages for entry and exit stamps
  • The passport must be valid for the three month period past the date of visa expiry

In the case of an application for a long-stay residence permit, the passport should be valid until the expiration of the visa.

Added Confusion

To muddy the waters further, there is another difference between ETIAS and Schengen Visas. Unlike ETIAS, which only exists in one electronic format, there are different variations of the Schengen Visa with differing conditions and restrictions.

Category A grants permission for the holder to transit through an airport in a Schengen country but not to stay in that country or even leave the airport.

Category C is a short-term visa for staying in a Schengen member country and has further sub-categories:

  • Single Entry Visa allows the holder to enter the Schengen area just once in a given time frame and expires once the holder leaves.
  • Double Entry Visa allows entry into and exit from the Schengen area twice and expires at the second exit.
  • Multiple Entry Visa allows multiple entries into and exits from the Schengen area for up to a maximum of 90 days in each 180 day period.

ETIAS or Schengen Visa for United Kingdom Citizens?

Citizens of countries from outside the EU and Schengen areas who currently require no visa for European travel must be documented properly once ETIAS comes into effect. UK citizens will need an approved ETIAS authorisation to travel to and within Europe.