Brits and Americans travelling to most EU countries next summer will not need to apply in advance, after a delay to the bloc’s new ‘e-visa’.
The European Commission has postponed the introduction of the ETIAS scheme from May until November 2023.
From this point, the ‘European Travel Information and Authorisation System’ will require non-residents to fill out a €7 application form before they travel.
Under the so-called ‘90 day rule’, non-EU nationals are allowed to spend up to 90 days in every 180 in the Schengen area. Any longer and they need a visa.
That’s not changing fundamentally, as people are still entitled to spend this much time inside the zone, but the visa waiver process will no longer be completely admin-free.
How long does it take to apply for the ETIAS visa waiver?
The process will be largely automated and it should not take more than 10 minutes to fill out the form - which will require passport information and travel details, as well as some basic security questions.
The European Commission (EC) is billing the new ETIAS system as "simple, fast and visitor friendly". It said it expects that a positive answer will be given in more than 95 per cent of applications.
The visa waiver will then be issued automatically within minutes of payment. But travellers are advised to apply at least 72 hours before they need it, just in case of any delays.
"Only in very exceptional cases could the ETIAS procedure take up to 30 days," said the Commission.
Once your application has been approved it lasts for three years and is valid for an unlimited number of entries - which is good news for frequent travellers.
After three years, the ETIAS visa waiver process will need to be repeated for further travel in the EU.
Who does the new EU visa waiver apply to?
The new security measure affects people who do not live permanently in an EU country and don’t need a visa to stay in one.
Tourists, second-home owners, temporary workers or those visiting family or friends in the 26 Schengen zone countries should therefore take note.
The zone includes most EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are the EU nations which will stay outside the ETIAS system.
The new ETIAS permit is being likened to the Australian ETA and the US ESTA visa waivers, both used for short-term stays.
The rules for those who require a Schengen visa - including the majority of citizens in Africa, Asia and South America - will remain the same.
Why is the EU introducing an American-style visa waiver?
The visa waiver scheme is intended to improve security across the EU, addressing information gaps about international arrivals in the EU.
"Currently, border and law enforcement authorities have little information on travellers who are crossing the EU borders visa-free," said the EC.
The ETIAS system will cross-reference personal details against a number of EU databases including Europol, to help spot individuals that may pose a risk to security before they enter the Schengen area's borders.
It is hoped that the visa waiver will help improve the detection of human trafficking, particularly in the case of minors, and help tackle cross-border criminal activity.
How and when will the ETIAS change travel for non-EU citizens?
The European Commission says this will have “minimal effect” on people travelling to Europe.
Eligible travellers will have to obtain the ETIAS before travelling, at a cost of €7. It's free to under-18s or over-70s. Air and sea carriers will then have to verify the status of the travel document prior to boarding.
Initially slated for the end of 2022 and then May 2023, ETIAS is now set to come into force in November 2023.