Think you have the business of travel in Europe sorted? There's change in the wind that means travel to Europe is going to get slightly more complicated for most of us.
Come 2020 and the EU is planning to implement a new entry system designed to reduce illegal immigration and beef up security against terrorism, and this is going to affect how Australians travel around Europe. At its heart, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) adds another layer of approvals to the existing Schengen Agreement as it applies to Australians travelling in Europe.
Once the system is implemented in 2020, Australians planning to visit the EU will need to apply online for a ETIAS visa. You'll be asked security questions and required to provide details of your travel plans. Expect to be grilled, this is a counter-terrorism process. You'll also have to pay a fee, most likely €5. Only adults need the ETIAS visa. Minors – those under 18 – will need only their passport.
Unless you have the ETIAS visa you won't be allowed to board any aircraft, ferry, cruise ship or train heading for Europe. The ETIAS visa is valid for three years from the date of issue or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.
Once you've obtained the ETIAS visa you can travel freely within the Schengen Area, which presently covers most of Europe with the exception of Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and the former countries that once made up Yugoslavia except for Slovenia. According to the ETIAS website, by the time 2020 comes along the ETIAS visa will apply to some of those countries as well, such as Croatia and Bulgaria. The rules for travel within that zone will stay the same as under the existing Schengen Area regulations, namely the right of Australians to stay within the zone and travel freely for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
A level of confusion exists. While the ETIAS website states that "Australian citizens travelling to the EU for business or leisure reasons will be obligated to apply for an ETIAS visa", according to other pages of the same website "The ETIAS authorisation is not a visa. In fact, it is an electronic authorisation".
This is what the ETIAS website says on the specific topic of Australian passport holders planning to visit France:
"All tourists entering French territory from another (Schengen country) are exempted from presenting their passports to Austrian [sic] authorities."
See what I mean?
Something the ETIAS does not take into account is the visa waiver agreements that exist between Australia and a number of European countries, signed back in the 1950s in most cases. Those visa waiver agreements allow Australian passport holders to stay in these countries, usually for a period of 90 days. Since they predate the Schengen Agreement, Australians can remain in these countries without reference to the 90 days granted under the Schengen Agreement, in effect a top-up.
Unless an agreement between two countries is rescinded it still holds sway. While a couple of European countries have cancelled their visa waiver agreements with Australia – Greece and Spain are two examples – they're still in force with a number of significant players including Germany, France, Holland, Austria and the Nordic countries. It would seem therefore, that Australian passport holders would be entitled to make use of these visa waiver agreements even after ETIAS comes into effect.
However once the EU wakes up to the existence of the visa waivers, it would seem likely they will pressure member countries to cancel those agreements since they represent holes in the security net, which is what ETIAS is all about.
Here's another rub. At the moment, British passport holders are entitled to travel freely within the Schengen Areas and stay as long as they like. Since many Australian residents hold British nationality they also benefit, but once Britain leaves the EU Brits will be regarded as third country nationals, and will be required to apply for ETIAS clearance on the same basis as Australians.
Every country that has implemented an e-visa system has provided a gateway for scammers who set up an official-looking website that mimics the real thing and whacks on a massive surcharge. Not only do these rip off unsuspecting travellers, they also slow down the process of obtaining a visa. There is no reason to believe that the ETIAS application process will be any different.
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