What is the difference between a Schengen visa and an ETIAS travel authorization?

Let’s start off with a reminder definition of both procedures, starting with a Visa

What is a Visa?

A visa is an official document issued by the competent authorities of a country that an alien must present when entering its territory. Depending on the legislation of each country, visas are required: either for any foreign national or according to the nationality of the visitor.

This is a necessary condition for entering and staying in this territory for a certain period of time. But this is by no means a guarantee because the border control authorities of certain countries may refuse the admission to their territory of any foreigner, even if they hold a valid visa.

What is ETIAS?

ETIAS is an automated computer system, created to detect possible security or illegal immigration risks posed by visitors exempted from the visa requirement entering the Schengen area, while facilitating border crossing for the vast majority of travellers who do not present such risks. All third-country nationals who do not require a visa to travel to the Schengen area will have to apply for a travel authorization through the ETIAS system before travelling. The information collected through ETIAS will allow, in strict compliance with fundamental rights and data protection principles, prior checking of possible security or illegal immigration risks.

The ETIAS travel authorization is not a visa. Nationals of countries exempted from the visa requirement will continue to be able to travel to the EU without a visa and will simply have to obtain a travel authorization using ETIAS before travelling. ETIAS will be a simple, fast and easy system for travellers, which will lead, in more than 95% of cases, to a positive response within a few minutes.

The ETIAS travel authorization does not reintroduce obligations similar to those related to visas. It is not necessary to go to a consulate to submit an application, no biometric data is collected and much less information is collected than during a visa application procedure. While a Schengen visa procedure can generally take up to 15 days, and in some cases be extended to 30 or 60 days, it will only take a few minutes to complete the ETIAS application online. The authorization will be valid for three years, much longer than a Schengen visa. An ETIAS authorization will be valid for an unlimited number of entries.

The ETIAS travel authorization will be a necessary and low-binding procedural step for all travellers exempted from the visa requirement, enabling them to avoid bureaucratic formalities and delays when they arrive at the borders. ETIAS will fully respect this visa-free regime, facilitate the crossing of the external borders of the Schengen area and allow visa-free travellers to take full advantage of this exemption regime.

For more about this topic, here are a few articles you can read

  • The signatory countries of the Schengen Agreement
  • ALL you need to know about ETIAS