ESTA-Like Registration Process Spreads to Europe for U.S. Citizens’ Travel in 2021

Several media outlets recently reported on a new pre-registration requirement for U.S. citizens traveling to any of the 26 Schengen-area countries, plus additional participating European countries and microstates (34 total at present), which will become effective on January 1, 2021.    The ETIAS registration will also apply to citizens of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Mexico, South Korea, and Taiwan among other nations, in addition to the U.K. due to Brexit and is conditional for the U.S. based on ongoing visa exempt reciprocity for travel to the U.S. by E.U. citizens.  The registration requirement does not apply to travelers using a passport of an E.U. member country to travel to the E.U., which is a reference to dual nationals of those countries subject to ETIAS registration.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it seems that the European Parliament, which adopted this change in July of 2018, found the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) as a model to implement. The European version of ESTA is referred to as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).  Electronic visa or visa waiver programs also are used in Canada, Australia, India, and Turkey.

Registration not Visas

Both ESTA and ETIAS were implemented to deal with security related concerns for travelers from countries not subject to visa requirements prior to application for entry.  ESTA was implemented on January 12, 2009 as to travelers from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries.  The VWP began in 1986 in the U.S.

ESTA and ETIAS Comparisons

Period of Stay Up to 90 days Up to 90 days in a 180 day period
Cost $14 U.S. dollars ($4 processing, $10 authorization) 7 euros
Validity 2 years or until passport expires, whichever is earlier 3 years or until end of validity of travel document registered with ETIAS
When to Apply Recommend 72 hours in advance of travel Recommend 96 hours in advance of travel
Biometrics? Passport with machine readable zone on biographic page and electronic with digital chip containing information about passport owner. Passport with machine readable zone on biographic page required and electronic with digital chip containing information about passport owner, as applicable.
Processing Time Minutes (est. 23) if no hits Minutes (est. 15) if no hits – max. 2 weeks
Number of Entries Unlimited Unlimited
Purpose of Travel Business or pleasure as defined by laws and regulations Tourism, business, or transit  as defined by laws and regulations
What if Denied? Obtain visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. No right of appeal. Obtain Schengen visa – but there is a right of appeal
Retention Period for Data Generally two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first. DHS will then maintain this information for an additional year after which it is archived for twelve years to allow retrieval of the information for law enforcement, national security, or investigatory purposes but with more limited access. Period of travel authorization validity or five years from last decision to annul, revoke, or refuse authorization to travel.    If the approved applicant consents, information can be stored for no more than three additional years after the end of the period of travel validity.


For U.S. citizens, it is important to note that at least a right of appeal is incorporated in the ETIAS process unlike its ESTA counterpart.

What databases does the ETIAS system review?

The system will automatically cross-check each application against:

  • the Schengen Information System (SIS),
  • the Visa Information System (VIS),
  • Europol data,
  • the Eurodac database, proposed future EU information systems,
  • the Entry/Exit System (EES), Interpol databases,
  • the Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Document database (SLTD),
  • the Interpol Travel Documents Associated with Notices database (TDAWN), a dedicated ETIAS watch list and specific risk indicators.

Certainly, this outline of requirements is preliminary, but to avoid travel delays and potential cancellations, it will be important to time ETIAS registrations as early as possible before the anticipated travel starting in 2021.   Make sure to follow developments at: .

About the Author:

Kathleen Campbell Walker is a member of Dickinson Wright PLLC and serves as a co-chair of the Immigration Practice Group. She is a former national president and general counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  She serves on the AILA Board of Governors.  In 2014, she received the AILA Founder’s Award, which is awarded from time to time to the person or entity, who has had the most substantial impact on the field of immigration law or policy in the preceding period (established 1950).  She has testified several times before Congress on matters of immigration policy and border security. She may be reached in our El Paso, TX office at 915-541-9360 and you may view Kathleen’s bio here.