EES and ETIAS: The big changes for travel in Europe in 2023
There are two changes scheduled to come into effect this year which will affect travel in and out of the European Union for non-EU citizens such as Brits, Americans, Australians and Canadians. Here's how EES and ETIAS will affect you.
Because Brussels loves jargon both of these are known by acronyms - EES and ETIAS - they are two separate systems but they are both scheduled to come into effect in 2023.
Here's what they will change;
1: EES - Entry/Exit System
This doesn't change anything in terms of the visas or documents required for travel, or the rights of travellers, but it does change how the EU's and Schengen area's external borders are policed.
It's essentially a security upgrade, replacing the current system that relies on border guards with stamps with an electronic swipe in/swipe out system that will register more details such as immigration status.
When - the start date was supposed to be May 2023 but the EU announced in January that it would not be ready and will now come into force "by the end of 2023". There are serious concerns that border infrastructure in the UK at cross-Channel crossing points will not be able to handle the expanded checks, and talks are continuing between representatives of France and the UK.
Where - this is for the EU and Schengen area's external borders, so doesn't apply if you are travelling between France and Germany for example, but would apply if you enter any EU or Schengen zone country from a non-EU country eg crossing from the UK to France via Channel Tunnel or flying into Germany from the US.
What - Travellers will need to scan their passports or other travel document at an automated kiosk each time they cross an EU external border. It will not apply to foreign residents of EU countries or those with long stay visas.
When non-EU travellers first enter the Schengen/EU area the system will register their name, biometric data, and the date and place of entry and exit. Facial scans and fingerprint data will be taken and retained for three years after initial registration.
Many airports of course already have biometric passport scanners but they're only checking that your passport is valid and the photo matches your face.
The EES system also calculates how long you can stay within the EU, based on your rights of residency or your 90-day allowance, and also checks whether your passport has ever been flagged for immigration offences such as overstaying a visa.
Who - this is for non-EU nationals who are entering the EU as a visitor (rather than residents). The system scans your passport and will tell you how long you can stay for (based on the 90-allowance or the visa linked to the passport).
What about residents? Non EU nationals who live in an EU country and have a national residency card such as a carte de séjour in France or a TIE in Spain are not affected by this, since they have the right to unlimited stays within their country of residence.
We asked the European Commission how the system works for residents and were told: "The Entry/Exit System will not apply to non-EU citizens holding a residence document or a residence permit. Their personal data will not be registered in the Entry/Exit System.
"It is enough if holders of such documents present them to the border guards to prove their status."
The Commission later clarified that non-EU citizens who are resident in an EU country should not use eGates or automatic scanners, but should instead head to the queue with an in-person guard (if available) where they can show both their passport and residency document.
However there's no suggestion those with permanent residency will lose their right of residency if they do go through the automatic gates when entering the EU because their residency status is guaranteed - as long as they can prove it with their permit. Although they could face the inconvenience of a few extra questions next time they travel.
What does this actually change?
Apart from a more hi-tech process at the border (and potentially big queues in Dover) there are likely to be two main effects of this.
For non-EU nationals who have residency in an EU country it could mean the end of the rather inconsistent process of passport stamping, which has been a particular issue for Brits since Brexit, with wildly inconsistent official practices by border guards that have frustrated many British residents of the EU and left them with incorrect stamps in their passports.
For visitors to the EU this tightens up application of the 90-day rule. It doesn't change the rule itself, but means that anyone attempting to over-stay or 'play' the system will instantly be spotted.
The European Commission's other stated aim is security, making it easier to spot security risks at the border.
Will there be delays for non-EU travellers?
It's very likely but will largely depend on where you are arriving into in the EU.
The Local reported recently that a number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EES border checks.
Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.
“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.
“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.
Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.
France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.
2: ETIAS - European Travel Information and Authorisation System
Who - This is relevant only to non-EU citizens who do not live permanently in an EU country or have a visa for an EU country.
It therefore covers tourists, second-home owners, those on family visits or doing short-term work.
When - This now has a provisional start date of November 2023 after also being postponed from 2022.
What changes - Citizens of many non-EU countries including the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can spend up to 90 days in every 180 in the EU or Schengen zone without needing a visa - the so-called '90 day rule'.
This is set to change - people are still entitled to spend up to 90 days in every 180, but the process will no-longer be completely admin free.
Instead, travellers will have to fill out an online application before they travel.
Once issued, the authorisation lasts for three years, so frequent travellers do not need to complete a new application every time but it must be renewed every three years.
For anyone who has travelled to the USA recently, the system is essentially similar to the ESTA visa required for short stays.
How much - Each application costs €7, but is free for under 18s and over 70s.
How - The application process is entirely online. The European Commission says that applications should be processed within minutes, but advises travellers to apply 72 hours in advance in case of delays.
What about residents?
This does not apply to residents, so they will not need to complete the online process before travel. Instead, they will show their passport and residency document at the border, just as they do now.
What does this change?
This spells the end of visa-free travel into the EU for many groups.
For tourists and visitors to the EU it's a big change, meaning that pre-holiday tasks will now include the online visa for all members of the group, in addition to booking a hotel/flights etc.
The process itself sounds fairly simple - and each visa lasts for three years so regular travellers won't need to do this every time - but it seems likely that the message of what is now required won't filter through to many holidaymakers, leading to confusing scenes at the border.