Electronic Travel Authorisations (ETAs) have garnered a lot of media attention recently, and for good reason. The EU, home to one of the world’s largest common travel areas, the Schengen Area, is about to launch its own ETA, known as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).
The EU’s ETIAS system has been in the works for some time now, having been delayed a couple of years, but it is set to be launched in 2024, and it is imperative that anyone who has visa-free travel to the EU understands what ETIAS is and how it might affect them.
Going forward in this piece, we will use the term ETA to cover the process in general and only use a country’s specific naming when dealing with details concerning that country.
What Are ETAs?
An ETA is basically a border immigration control security tool that allows countries to screen incoming travelers who have visa-free access to their country to ensure that they are not a security threat to the population and other tourists.
The ETA, from its name, is an electronic procedure that takes place online, and unlike a visa, it takes minutes to complete and process and provides the successful applicant with an approval to enter the country.
Countries use ETAs to screen incoming travelers. Those who need a visa will have undergone due diligence when applying for their visa, but nationals from a country with a visa waiver agreement won’t be screened, and that is where the ETA comes in.
There are many ETAs around the world; the US was one of the first to launch an ETA in 2008, calling it the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). Since then, many countries have followed suit.
Is The ETA a Visa?
No. The ETA is not a visa. A visa is a conditional authorisation granted by a country through its immigration office or embassies that allows people to enter the country for a limited timeframe and for a specific purpose.
The ETA is a security authorisation given to those who already have the right to enter the country as long as they meet the safety and security requirements.
There are differences between an ETA and a visa, such as:
- Unlike a visa, which could take anywhere between 15-60 days to process, an ETA, on the other hand, only takes minutes.
- An ETA is valid for a specific amount of time, usually ranging in years, and typically allows multiple entries. Visas come in all shapes, but usually, tourist visas are issued for a specific number of days and are single entry.
- The ETA does not require booking an appointment at an embassy or submitting physical documentation, unlike visas.
- The ETA is much cheaper to obtain than a visa; for example, an ETIAS costs €7 while a Schengen Visa can range between €60-€80.
The ETIAS, ESTA, & UK ETA
The biggest ETAs are the EU ETIAS, US ESTA, and the UK ETA (UKETA). While the United States already has its system in place, the UKETA will come into effect in February 2024, while the ETIAS is also set to launch in 2024.
The premise of all three is similar; they are security screening procedures aimed at those with visa-free accessibility to ensure the safety of the country’s inhabitants and other incomers.
There are some minor differences, however, such as:
- Cost: The ETIAS is the cheapest, costing just €7 per adult applicant, while the UK charges £10 per applicant, and the US charges $21.
- Validity: The ETIAS is valid for three years, while the UK and US have a validity of two years.
- Processing time: The ETIAS and ESTA are quick, with processing times averaging 10 and 23 minutes, respectively, while the UKETA needs three working days.
Moreover, the UKETA is not open to all visa-free holders at the moment, as the UK government will continue adding countries to the “need-to-apply” list in the future. The ETIAS and ESTA, however, will be open to all visa-free eligible nationals.
The table below highlights all the differences between the three systems.
ETIAS & Citizenship by Investment
Investors who obtain citizenship through investment in either Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis, or St Lucia will gain visa-free access to the EU. This means that once the ETIAS system launches, they will have to apply for it before traveling to the EU.
The ETIAS is the quickest ETA system in the world, and the cheapest, so it will not be an issue for those who obtained citizenship by investment as they will have already been screened through robust background checks when they applied for citizenship.
The ETIAS will add a layer of safety to their travels and won’t take more than ten minutes of their time, meaning that its effect on citizenship by investment holders is absolutely minimal.
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