Early in 2019 we alerted you to the European Union’s forthcoming travel authorization scheme requiring Canadians and Americans (as well as citizens of 60 other nations who do not normally require visas for European travel) to file for pre-authorization to visit any of its member countries as of January 2021.
The scheme, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), has been deferred to late 2022 to allow all member countries to better coordinate and come into compliance with each other. Nothing comes easily or without glitches in the EU’s multinational operations. That start date is also tentative as there is likely to be an official launch toward the end of 2022 but it will not be mandatory until 2023. Additionally, a 6-month grace period is planned to allow eligible travellers to become familiarized with the new regulations. So all we can say today is “for now you can relax,” but “stay tuned and be prepared,” because the ease of international travel to which you have become accustomed is a thing of the past. This is especially so as individual countries impose varying border rules to protect themselves from COVID-19, and growing numbers require incoming visitors to have supplemental travel insurance to cover any emergency medical costs during their visits.
The quality of European health care is high. So are its costs. And though European citizens have some reciprocal agreements to cover medical emergencies while visiting neighbouring countries, they extend only to EU citizens—not to Canadians or Americans. As well, until the COVID-19 threat is over, individual countries in Europe have the power to unilaterally impose their own border controls to guard against spread of the pandemic. So before you anticipate travel to Europe, make sure you know the rules for your final destination as well as any countries through which you’ll be transiting. And make sure your travel insurance conforms to those rules.
Let’s review ETIAS
In effect, Europe’s ETIAS is similar to Canada’s eTA (electronic Travel Authorization) or the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) in the US. Its purpose is to tighten the management of EU- country borders, decrease crime and terrorism, and control undocumented migration—all the while reducing procedures and application times for travellers.
The applications, designed to take about 10 minutes, must be done online and will cost €7, payable by debit or credit card. They will ask the applicant’s name, date and place of birth, education and work experience, prior travel, medical status, and other background questions such as records of deportations, rejected visa applications, or criminal records. Applicants under 18 will not be charged fees.
Applications that are completed correctly and don’t ring any alarms on ETIAS’s watch list (which is connected to other international databases and Interpol) will likely be approved in a few minutes. An “Alert” may require a more complete manual application and take from four days to two weeks to pass muster. Successfully completed authorizations will be valid for three years and will allow an unlimited number of entries to Schengen Area countries. Once in the area, travel to other Schengen countries will be “borderless.”
What is the Schengen Area?
In 1985, five member states of the European Union signed an agreement in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, to abolish internal border checks between their countries. Since then, the Schengen Area has expanded to include most EU countries except Ireland and a few others soon expected to be part of the Area—Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus. Although Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein are not EU members, they are part of the Schengen zone. The UK, which withdrew from the EU in January 2020, has never been a member of Schengen and so far is exempt from the ETIAS requirement.
The key thing to remember is that Schengen and the EU are two separate entities even though their interests are often intertwined. And the EU is simply appropriating the Schengen structure to craft ETIAS for its own protection.
If you really need more on this moving target you can keep up with Schengen rules on this website.
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