ETIAS, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, was first proposed by the European Commission in 2016 and was approved by the European Parliament in 2018. ETIAS is an electronic system similar to the American Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) designed to screen and approve non-EU passport holders for travel to, from and within the European Union. As the United Kingdom is no longer part of the EU following Brexit ETIAS approval now applies to British passport holders wishing to visit any of the twenty-seven EU member countries. ETIAS was scheduled to become fully operational in 2021 but this has now been deferred until late in 2022. This means that, for the present, British citizens intending to travel to Europe are not required to possess an ETIAS approved passport but this situation is set to change in the latter part of 2022.
When and How to Apply for ETIAS
Although ETIAS is not now expected to come into effect until late in 2022 it will not be a mandatory requirement for holders of British passports until probably mid-2023 as there will be a transition period of some months following the official launch. This, however, does not mean that British citizens should wait until that time to seek ETIAS approval. ETIAS application forms should be available online in late 2022 and those persons intending to visit Europe in the three years following this should ensure they have applied for and secured ETIAS approval for travel. While trouble-free travel may be available in early 2023 there is no guarantee that some destination European countries will not require ETIAS approval before entering or travelling through their territories.
The ETIAS application process is carried out entirely online and not in person. This means that an applicant must have access to a computer and also an email address for verification purposes. The application form will require personal information and passport details as well as details concerning certain medical conditions and any criminal record.
Approval or refusal should be almost immediate and refusals (expected to be less than 5%) can be appealed. An ETIAS is valid for a period of three years when it will need to be renewed and is expected to cost around £6.00 (€7.00) which must be paid as part of the application process. The ETIAS is not a paper document but rather an electronic approval which is digitally linked to the relevant passport.
European Travel During Covid
Although Britain has left the European Union and is now deemed a third country, the documentation requirements for visiting Europe has not, as yet, changed. ETIAS is still on the horizon but not yet an issue and a valid British passport is all that is required for European travel. Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, different countries have different attitudes to visiting Britons and some have special requirements in place for British passport holders.
Fully vaccinated British travellers currently enjoy much easier European travel than their non-vaccinated brethren. Many EU countries are allowing fully vaccinated British citizens to enter without any quarantine or self-isolation requirements. These countries include:
- Czech Republic
However, all is not as straighforward and simple as it may appear as these and other EU countries may or may not recognise the British NHS Covid pass as there has been a delay in linking the NHS system to that of the EU. The NHS vaccine app is accepted by France, Spain and seventeen other EU member states. The remainder have yet to recognise its validity.
Because of the delay in linking the British and EU systems, and partial acceptance of the NHS Covid pass app, British travellers have experienced difficulties while travelling in Europe. Hungary will only accept its own immunisation certificate and British tourists have been informed that only paper certificates will be accepted in the Czech Republic and Latvia. Similarly, there have been reports of British visitors with an NHS pass being refused service in Italian bars and restaurants.
No Quick Fix
Technical discussions about linking the NHS and EU Covid pass systems have been ongoing for months but no positive outcome has yet been reached. While talks continue it has not gone unnoticed that similar link-ups with the Covid pass systems in Switzerland, Turkey, North Macedonia and the Ukraine were quickly approved and are now operational.
For the present, all British travellers to Europe can do is accept the situation as it is and be fully informed of what documentation will be required in the destination country and what (if any) quarantine or Covid tests requirements are currently in force. It is also advisable to be aware that the regulations that apply today may not be in force when it comes time to travel as a sudden increase (or decrease) in the Covid-19 case numbers can dramatically change the situation almost overnight.