TORONTO — Travel to Europe will soon come with an added cost for Canadians.
The EU has confirmed a launch date of May 2023 for its new visa waiver program called ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System), which applies to residents of 63 non-EU countries, including Canada, that are currently visa-free.
Though these citizens are permitted to enter countries in the Schengen Zone for business or tourism for up to 90 days, with the program’s launch they will be required to apply for ETIAS online, prior to their trip, at a cost of €7. All citizens of visa-free countries, regardless of age, will be required to apply for ETIAS authorization, however, only those ages 18-70 will need to pay the fee.
The entire application process is expected to take approximately 10 minutes and will include such required fields as name, date and place of birth, citizenship, address, contact information, education and work experience, and entry destination within the EU.
According to the EU, ETIAS’ main purpose is to better manage who is entering EU borders amid recent security concerns over terrorism and the migrant crisis. The electronic system, which resembles the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), will keep track of visitors from countries that do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Zone, and detect if a person is a threat in any way to the security of Schengen countries.
To quote Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, in his 2016 State of the Union Address: “We need to know who is crossing our borders. This way we will know who is travelling to Europe before they even get here.”
Travellers will learn within minutes of submitting their application whether they’ve been approved for ETIAS. If approved, their ETIAS will be valid for three years, or until the travel document they registered during the application expires, whichever comes first. If the application is denied, travel carriers will not permit them to board if travelling by air, land and sea. Denied applicants will also have the right to appeal.
In preparation of ETIAS’ launch, Travelweek checked in with Pascal Prinz, Chair of the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) Canada Chapter and Director of Switzerland Tourism in Canada, who provides further insight into the program’s requirements and benefits:
As of now, the onus falls completely on travellers to apply for ETIAS online, prior to their trip. Do you foresee tour operators eventually folding in the ETIAS fee into trip costs?
“The rules allow travellers to authorize commercial intermediaries to create and submit an application on their behalf. So indeed, travel operators and travel advisors can in the future offer services to fill in this form and fold the fee into their costs. A similar practice already exists in many countries, where travellers must obtain a visa for travelling to Europe. This is another example where travel operators and travel advisors offer value and convenience to their clients.
“It’s also worth mentioning that ETIAS will be valid for three years or until the travel document expires. Our frequent and returning visitors won’t need to apply for it each time.”
What will happen if a Canadian who is unaware of ETIAS arrives in Europe next year for vacation without approval? Will they be able to apply for ETIAS upon arrival?
“The ETIAS should be received prior to departure. The EU authorities expect that most applicants (more than 95% of all cases) will be given automated approval within minutes. So, if not aware, travellers can even fill in the form at the airport before checking in.
“However, if there is a hit against any of the searched databases or any concern identified, manual handling of the application takes up to 96 hours and extra documents may be required. Thus, it will of course be recommended to fill in the form in advance.
“As air carriers will have to check ETIAS before allowing the passenger to board, travellers will receive numerous reminders together with a call to register for their flight ahead of the trip. Thanks to all these measures, we’re convinced there won’t be many passengers who will be unaware of it.”
The launch date of ETIAS was originally set for 2021. Why was it pushed back to May 2023?
“The past two years have been tough both on the border authorities and the travel industry. The COVID-19 pandemic with all vaccine and testing requirements to cross borders has already introduced many changes in the way we travel, so it clearly was not the right moment to put forward and test other innovations. Neither was ETIAS a top priority back then. Now, as international travel is finally getting back to normal, Europe is back to finalizing ETIAS.”
Do you think ETIAS is a necessary safety measure?
“The Canada Chapter of ETC recognizes the benefit that ETIAS offers in respect of improving the safety of travellers to Europe. Safety and security are preeminent considerations for all.
“The main purpose of this system is to allow Europe to know who is crossing its borders and to streamline the controls for visa-free travellers. Consequently, ETIAS should also increase consumer confidence in safety and borderless travel in Europe. One joint ETIAS platform for all EU countries will ensure that the rules are harmonised across the Schengen zone and that there is no fragmentation.
“Notably, ETIAS is not a unique initiative coming from Europe. It will be similar to the eTA In Canada and ESTA programme in the U.S., both already in place for many years for visa-free travellers. The UK is also developing a similar electronic travel authorization, which will be in operation from 2025.”
Are you worried that the added cost and time it would take to apply for ETIAS will deter Canadians from visiting Europe, especially at this time when travel is still on its way to recovery?
“ETC does consider the proposed scheme to be an additional administrative burden for travellers and the industry, especially at a time when we are finally on our path to recovery from COVID-19. Once the scheme is introduced, it is imperative that the online platform is as simple to use as possible and equally accessible through mobile devices. Both destinations and the industry will have to provide support to travellers and inform them well in advance to ensure a smooth and easy transition.
“Still, we do not expect ETIAS to deter Canadians from visiting Europe. The desire to travel post-COVID is strong, and a 10-minute form is not going to stop Canadians from planning their long-awaited trips to favourite European destinations and enjoying Europe’s unique tourism offer.
“Moreover, throughout the past two years, we all got accustomed to filling in the various passenger locator forms and preparing all supporting travel documents. Compared to this, ETIAS won’t be much of an obstacle!”
What do you want to say to travellers who have concerns over privacy?
“Europe has well established itself in the past years as the champion in privacy and data protection, and ETIAS was developed in this spirit. The ETIAS data protection policy is fully in line with European law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This new system aims to keep European residents and visitors safe without compromising their privacy.”
What can travel agents do to make the application process easier for their clients and to help put them at ease?
“We are convinced that it is crucial to inform and train travel advisors early about this upcoming change and to explain the new rules in detail to them. This will then enable travel advisors to inform their clients and to guide them through this simple process.”
Is the ETC preparing to launch any educational materials/campaigns to build awareness of ETIAS as the launch date approaches?
“ETC intends to launch a special campaign next year to inform travellers and travel agents about ETIAS and how it operates. We are currently in coordination with the EU authorities, NTOs, and European and Canadian travel stakeholders to assess the most effective manner to build awareness.”
For more information on ETIAS, go to https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/etias/.