I’ve read a number of articles telling me I need to get a visa before my next trip to Europe beginning in 2024. No, I don’t. And if you have a European vacation planned for 2024, chances are you won’t either. But you will be required to apply for a visa waiver through Europe’s new Electronic Traveler Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS. And though it sounds like a visa, it isn’t. It’s a waiver so you don’t have to get a visa. I would say leave it to the Europeans to complicate something as simple as getting your passport stamped, but they just copied our Electronic System for Travel Authorization, also not a visa, which Europeans have had to deal with in order to enter the U.S. since 2009. Are you confused yet? Let me break it down for you.
In most cases you won’t need to apply for a visa if you plan to travel to Europe in 2024, in spite of what press reports are saying. But you will need to apply for a waiver so you can travel to Europe without a visa. It’s a simple process, but one that you’ll have to be sure to remember before your next trip to France, Italy, Spain, and even Iceland. Airlines will be required to verify visa waiver status for all travelers heading to Europe in 2024 and if you don’t have the visa waiver, you will be denied boarding. But it isn't anything to get worked up about. If you can order something from Amazon, you should have no difficulty applying for a European visa waiver.
The ETIAS visa waiver is intended to enhance security in Europe in light of recent terrorism incidents. It is a program the Europeans have been planning to implement since 2016…I wrote a blog post about it back in 2019 but it has taken them until now to get their act together. The visa waiver program is being implemented in most, but not all European nations. Rather than list those who will require a visa waiver in 2024, it is easier to list those that do not. The only European nations not participating in the ETIAS visa waiver program are Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, and Turkey. If your travel plans take you to one of those five countries, you’ll have to check their individual entry requirements before booking your travel. To visit every other European country, including Iceland, you’ll need to apply for a visa waiver through the ETIAS.
Getting a visa waiver for travel to Europe is simple. You apply online by filling out a form and paying the 7 Euro processing fee with a credit card…that’s $7.75 at today’s exchange rate. The ETIAS system will run your application through Interpol, Europol, and several other international criminal databases, and so long as you aren’t on anyone’s “do not fly” list you’ll probably be approved in the time it takes your credit card company to approve the processing fee charge. Well…maybe a few minutes longer but not much.
Once you submit your application, you’ll be notified of your status by e-mail. The European Commission has stated their goal is to provide notification of approval for most applications within 10-minutes of applying. I expect in the early days it will take a bit longer, but not much. Once you get the approval e-mail there is nothing else you need to do. There is no visa waiver letter to print off and carry along with your passport, no QR code to be scanned at the airport, and there are no added steps for getting through immigration once you arrive in Europe. Your visa waiver status will be attached to your passport number in the ETIAS database so when you check in for your flight, or when a European immigration agent scans your passport, their system will automatically retrieve your visa waiver status.
The visa waiver is valid for three years, and for as many trips to as many of the participating European countries as you care to make during that three-year period. The only caveat is that you can’t stay longer than 90 days at any one time. If you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for the appropriate visa based on your specific travel plans, which is nothing new.
Once the ETIAS visa waiver program is implemented you will need to apply at least 96 hours prior to your entry into Europe, but you can apply as far in advance of your trip as you wish…so long as your trip falls within the three-year approval period of your visa waiver. And remember…once your visa waiver application is approved, you can travel to Europe as many times as you want for three years before having to reapply.
The ETIAS application form has not yet been published, but the European Commission has released the general nature of information the form will ask for. You’ll be asked to provide identity and passport information, you’ll be asked to answer some questions about the nature of your travel and whether or not you have a past criminal record, and you may have to answer a few additional questions to help screeners determine whether you present a terrorist threat.
Most tourists will be approved for the visa waiver, but if your application is denied you may still be able to travel to Europe. If your application is denied, the e-mail you get will state why your application was denied and it will tell you what to do next. You’ll have the option to appeal, or you may be directed to apply for a regular visa.
If you already have a Schengen visa, that’s a visa to travel to any of the 26 countries that participate in the European Schengen agreement, you won’t need to apply for the visa waiver…you already have a visa. Just be sure to check the expiration date. If you don’t know what a Schengen visa is, you probably don’t have one and should plan to apply for the visa waiver.
If you already have a trip to Europe booked for 2024, you should apply for the visa waiver as soon as applications are accepted. We’ll be letting our clients booked for travel to Europe know when they can apply. And if you don’t have a trip booked yet but are considering travel to Europe next year, apply for the visa waiver before you book your trip just to avoid any unpleasant surprises. If you travel to Europe more than once, you’ll want to keep track of the expiration date for your visa waiver and be sure to reapply once your visa waiver is close to expiring. We’ll be reminding all of our Europe-bound clients to check their visa waiver status at the same time as we ask them to check their passport expiration date…before they book.
Trip insurance may or may not cover you if you have to cancel a trip to Europe that you’ve already paid for because you couldn’t, or didn’t, get a visa waiver. Check with your specific insurance provider to be sure. If you didn’t get trip insurance, don’t expect suppliers to offer a refund because you didn’t get your visa waiver. Most won’t.
The new European visa waiver program doesn’t have to be difficult. It is just one more thing to put on your travel checklist if your plans take you to Europe. Ignore the hype from the media, apply for the visa waiver as soon as applications are accepted, and it will be one less thing to worry about in the long list of things you need to do before traveling.