From 2021, Canadian citizens will need to apply for an ETIAS Visa Waiver before traveling to Europe. Since the European Union made the announcement, there has been some confusion about exactly what ETIAS is. The ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) will be very similar to the American ESTA Visa Waiver Program. It will not be a conventional visa, it will be a travel authorization.

In an attempt to reduce illegal immigration and improve border protection, the EU will be implementing restrictions for international travelers, including Canadians. The EU said the paperwork needed for the new ETIAS travel restriction is not a visa but is more akin to a “pre-travel screening” for travel benefitting from visa-free access.

There are a few key take-aways that every traveler should know:

What is the difference between a visa waiver and a regular visa?

There are several differences between ETIAS and a regular (Schengen) Visa.

ETIAS Applicants will not need to go to an embassy or consulate to apply for their travel authorization for Europe. Instead, applicants will need to complete the ETIAS application online and the process will not take longer than a few minutes.

The ETIAS Visa Waivers will be valid for periods of up to 3-years and will allow travelers to re-enter Europe multiple times over this period as long as the total number of days spent in the region does not exceed a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. Essentially 3 months within every 6 months. ETIAS Visa Waiver program visa will give travelers access to all 26 countries in the Schengen Area.

The Schengen Visa is currently the most common type of visa for Europe. They are also valid for stays of up to 90 days but expire after this duration. The application process involves going to an embassy or consulate of an EU country and submitting a range of documentation.

Which nationalities will need an ETIAS Visa Waiver and which need a Schengen Visa?

At the moment, all travelers who are not from visa-exempt countries need to obtain a Schengen Visa to be able to enter any of the countries in the Schengen Area. This will not change after the implementation of ETIAS. The nationalities who are currently visa-exempt, such as Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, will need to apply for an ETIAS Visa Waiver. Though more countries may be added to the list of ETIAS-eligible nationalities, the current list consists of all the nationalities which are visa-exempt at the moment.

Why is this being rolled out?

The main reason why visa waiver programmes are popular is that they strengthen border control. The EU realized the need to introduce ETIAS following a string of high-profile terrorist attacks in Europe. The participating countries will share intelligence related to terrorism and other security-related issues which will make it easy to pre-screen travelers during the application process. Anyone who poses a potential threat can be identified and prevented from reaching Europe. The other main advantage of a visa waiver program is how easy it is for travelers to apply.

Does this impact travel to the UK/Ireland?

Although the UK and Ireland are both in the European Union, neither country is part of the Schengen Area. They have their own separate immigration policies.

This means that neither the Schengen Visa or the ETIAS Visa Waiver will provide access to these two countries. However, many nationalities can currently visit the UK and Ireland without a visa and their lists of visa-exempt nationalities are practically the same as the rest of Europe’s.

When do I need to apply?

ETIAS has not been launched yet and no one currently needs one to visit Europe. At the moment, many nationalities can enter visa-free but others need a Schengen Visa.

ETIAS will be implemented in 2021 though the exact date has not been announced. Once it comes into effect, it will be a requirement for all travelers from eligible countries.

What are the costs?

One of the main advantages of the ETIAS Visa Waiver is that it is going to be cheaper than a Schengen Visa (approximately $110CAD). Applicants will need to pay a fee using a credit or debit card to submit their application.

The vast majority of applications will be quickly approved. When they are, the approved visa waivers will be sent to applicants by email.