What Is ETIAS, Europe’s New Visa-Waiver Program?

While travelers will soon need to apply online for entry authorization before arrival in Europe, the process requires only a few minutes and a small fee.

By Cameron Hewitt

Americans, Canadians, and residents of dozens of other countries will soon be required to preregister for entry authorization (using a system called "ETIAS") before they arrive in Europe. While this may sound like a real hassle — no one wants yet another item on their pretrip to-do list — most people will find it easy and quick. You'll submit an online application before your trip, pay a small fee, and be on your way.

The long-delayed program is now set to begin sometime in mid-2025. Smaller details are still being firmed up, so before your trip, you'll want to check the EU's official ETIAS page for the latest; ETIAS.com is also a good source for info.

Here's what we know so far:

What is ETIAS?

The European Travel Information and Authorization System is a measure to improve border-security screening among travelers who don't need a visa to enter Europe. Those travelers include people holding passports from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand (see the full list here).

How does ETIAS work?

Once the requirement kicks in, you'll need to submit an online application ahead of your trip to Europe, and pay a fee of €7 (about $8 USD). Applications must be completed for every traveler, regardless of age, but the fee is waived for those under 18 or above 70 years old. Once approved, you'll be sent a registration number that's electronically linked to your passport. According to the EU's official info, most applications will be approved "within minutes." But it's also smart to apply at least a month ahead of your visit, just in case questions arise about your application, as this could delay your authorization by several days or weeks.

When will ETIAS go into effect?

The EU plans to launch the program in mid-2025. Most travelers should have plenty of time to apply for authorization ahead of the requirement for entry. (And a few months' grace period is planned to follow the launch, during which authorities may waive the requirement for arriving travelers unaware of the new rule.)

Which countries will require ETIAS registration?

ETIAS registration will be required throughout most of Europe (including Iceland), but not the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, nor some countries on Europe's eastern edge (e.g. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, or Serbia).

How long does ETIAS approval last?

Once you have an ETIAS authorization number, you can use it to enter Europe as many times as you like over a period of three years (or until your passport expires) — provided you don't exceed the existing Schengen short-stay limit of 90 days out of any 180-day period.

Why does ETIAS exist?

With ETIAS, its member nations hope to improve their border security while speeding up passport checks at entry points. It follows on the heels of similar measures already enacted by other countries popular with travelers, such as Australia and New Zealand's "electronic travel authority" programs. Indeed, the US has been requiring visa-exempt visitors to register before arrival since 2009 (through the Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization, a.k.a. ESTA). Europe's ETIAS appears to be closely modeled after ESTA, effectively requiring the same of American visitors to Europe that the US requires of Europeans.

How will this affect European travel in 2025?

Fortunately, ETIAS presents just one more small, manageable step to take before traveling to Europe — nothing akin to the hassle of getting or renewing a passport. If you're reading this, you've already leaped the only significant hurdle: simply being aware that the requirement is soon to kick in.

It's likely that airlines will take the lead in making sure their passengers know about ETIAS — upon booking, upon checking in, and upon arriving at the airport — so that hopefully, by the time the plane boards, all passengers will have taken care of this step.

Each country in Europe is now also setting up its own automated "entry/exit system," though not necessarily all at the same pace. Upon arrival from outside Europe, you may see, in the place of border-guard booths, kiosks for scanning your passport and biometric data (facial image and fingerprints). For a while, however, many entry points will still be staffed by human border officials. But over time, the interminable-feeling lines for passport control that have long frustrated international travelers may become a thing of the past.

Cameron Hewitt is the co-author of several Rick Steves guidebooks.