Many people outside Europe have read about the impending changes in the rules for visiting this part of the world. Even the British, who are among the most numerous visitors to favorite destinations in Europe such as France, Spain and Italy, have learned that they could be affected by the new system that should be rolled out in 2020. So, what is the new European Visa Waiver System and who will be affected?
For starters, the EU Travel and Information System (ETIAS) is not actually a visa, and it is technically the very first attempt to create a European visa waiver. It will be necessary to fill an online application with more than 18 years paying a fee of 5 € before arriving in one of the European Schengen countries. If your ETIAS is approved, it's all you need when you arrive with your passport or travel document. You will be allowed to stay for 90 days in any 180-day period and you will be allowed to travel freely through the Schengen area. This is very similar to how the United States operates with their visa-free system for bona fide travelers called ESTA. Recently, Canada has also joined the bandwagon and has put in place a visa-free system called eTA.
So should I ask for a visa waiver for Spain?
Just because of the new changes, it does not necessarily mean that you will be affected. It all depends on the country of which you are a citizen and, if you are British, how the Brexit negotiations will take place in the coming months. Basically, the visa waiver in Spain or ETIAS will apply to anyone who has not needed to apply for a visa in advance so far unless it is an EU citizen or the one of the four non-Schengen countries. There are about 54 countries that could be affected. This list includes the United States, Canada, many Latin American countries, Japan and Malaysia, to name a few.
If you have ever needed a Schengen visa before traveling to Europe, it seems that you will still need it and you will not be involved in the new ETIAS agreements.
Remind me - what is the difference between the EU and Schengen?
This is a good question and for many non-Europeans who visit Europe regularly, it remains a mystery. Basically, the Schengen zone or the Schengen countries have common border regulations, which allow to travel freely in the area but prevent anyone from staying too long without authorization. In fact, almost all Schengen countries are also part of the EU (with the exception of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).
There are also countries in the EU that are not in Schengen (Great Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus). Britain and Ireland wanted to withdraw because they wanted more control over who was entering their country.
How much will a visa waiver cost in Spain?
The EU Commission, which exists to establish rules on what concerns the EU, confirmed the details of the ETIAS system in November 2016. Most regular visitors hope that the cost will be the same as that of the EU. US ESTA € 11, but it has been announced at a cost of € 5 for people over 18 and free for under 18s.
The other little detail that has not yet been revealed is the length of the visa waiver in Spain. The US version, ESTA, is valid for 2 years once it has been issued, although that does not mean that you can stay in the United States for so long. You only get 90 days even if you have received an ESTA. Once you have left the United States for an additional 90 days, you can return for another visit using the same ESTA. The visa exemption in Spain could work in the same way. We will have to wait and see what is decided.
Why is there all this fuss about travel authorizations?
The idea of something like ETIAS has been around for a number of years, but nothing has been done until the recent series of bombings and terrorist attacks, coupled with an unprecedented refugee crisis. Countries in the Schengen area have been generally satisfied that the rules have been so far, in particular the ability to move freely from one country to another without having to show passports. However, there was a feeling that things were far too lax. Some rather unpleasant people were thought to be slipping into Europe because of the lack of control over who is allowed to enter.
Basically, the main argument in favor of the visa exemption in Spain (ETIAS) is that it will allow authorities to examine visitors before they show up. If there is something suspicious about them, they will not be allowed to come to Europe, or they may be asked to apply for a full visa instead. There will also be a lot of information that will be shared between the Schengen area and it is hoped that it will improve security in the future.