US Citizens do NOT require a visa to visit Europe! But no-one cares about the details of ETIAS.

The end of last week saw one of the most panicked and heated debates in the travel media industry I have seen for some time, with some interesting vitriol being thrown around by readers.

Starting 1st January 2021, there will be a new Electronic Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) for citizens of visa-exempt countries at a cost of €7 for 3-year authorisation. Countries such as United States, Canada and even post-Brexit United Kingdom are all included. This authorisation will be required when visiting Schengen countries plus Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania, which are all Schengen-elect countries.

The system works near-enough identically to the US ESTA, Canadian ETA and Australian eVisitor systems, despite none of these calling their systems calling theirs a visa. It is essentially a pre-authorisation which you have to pay for and if you get rejected then you have to apply for a visa. Considering nearly every country in the world requires airlines to send passenger manifests prior to travel and already have the chance to deny boarding, it is essentially a superfluous step in travel preparation.

I have no idea why it suddenly blew up in the way it did because its intention was formally proposed in November 2016 and full details were announced July 2018. Such is the quality of copycat journalism I guess?

The Duck Test

There is this saying in English:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

The outcry is understandable. You cannot board your flight without purchasing and receiving approval from ETIAS, which sounds an awful lot like a visa.

So then what is the difference between the ETIAS system and visa? Well the backend processes are different which is sufficient to justify NOT calling it a visa. There is no official website for the application process yet (which US media outlets should have checked first), but the sole purpose is to check if you are likely to be a threat to the security of the Schengen zone. There is no legalisation of documents, letters of invitations, proof of accommodation, proof of financial sustenance, proof of return ticket, interviews. Just an online form and you will likely get your result in 10 minutes. This is shorter than the US ESTA system.

You will quickly realise ETIAS is NOT a visa if your electronic submission is rejected, because only then will you go through the pain and costs of applying for a visa!

I see this whole system not as a visa and asking permission to fly, but more as a money grab which the European Commission has the power to impose. (Or should I say… we have no choice but to accept.)

‘Visas' are only visas if that is the official name given by the issuing country

This is what a Schengen visa looks like – source: Wikipedia, licensed under Creative Commons.

That is the unfortunate truth to it. Since the introduction of e-Visas and rapid profiling through advanced authorisation the boundaries are quite obviously blurred. But as long as the USA, Canada and Australia continue to deny calling their pre-authorisation systems a visa, then they also have no right to call ETIAS a visa. Now let's move onto less asinine discussions, please!

About Tim

Tim is an engineer and a nerd who analyses every travel deal, travel hack. He has travelled to around 90 countries and also speaks Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin.

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  1. As a Bulgarian citizen I am happy that there is some kind of tax required for US citizens! Why you might ask. Because even though US and EU have an agreement, US doesn’t respect it! If you are an american citizen and want to visit my country, you don’t need a visa. But if you are Bulgarian and want to visit the US, then you need to pay for a visa and it is not cheap. It costs several hundred dollars!!! So please don’t even mention the 7 euro.

    • Spot on. EU law prohibits discrimination of nationalities of EU citizens so it is wrong that US allows Germany citizens in the visa-waiver list but not Bulgarians and a few other countries.

  2. Great step in the right direction. Europeans need to get an ESTA so fair enough that Americans are pre-screened as well. I assume this will also include a questionnaire on mental health, infectious diseases and committed war crimes. As well as finger printing upon arrival.

    • Also previous illegal stay in the US should be checked. Many of today’s US citizens entered the US illegally and they plan to do the same in Europe.

  3. I remember how proud Obama was in declaring the amount of revenue ESTA would bring to the US. Isn’t that evidence enough for money grab? I’m only surprised ETIAS is cheaper.

  4. I wa surprised a number of years ago to arrive at the airport in austin for a flight going to Sydney via LAX to have them ask me for a visa. I laughed thinking they were joking. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d need one. Luckily it was a pro forma thing and I did it on my phone and got the result in less than 10 minutes (long enough to charge my card haha) and was on my way. Money grab indeed. But heck we do it too!

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