International travel may still seem a long way off as countries around the world continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, but once we can travel again Europe is likely to be up there on the radar for many Singaporeans looking for a long-overdue change of scenery.
While there are no immediate new requirements to worry about, there is a new one coming up by May 2023 which will oblige Singapore citizens to apply online for a visa waiver before travelling to one of 26 European countries in the Schengen Area.
What is it?
The new system is the European Travel Information and Authorization System, ETIAS for short. It is similar to the ESTA arrangement for those used to travelling to the USA, and the eTA when flying to Canada.
A Singapore citizen, as a visa-free traveller (e.g. for tourism or a business trip), does not need a visa to enter the European Schengen Area. ETIAS will not change this.
ETIAS is a travel authorisation issued to those already eligible to enter the Schengen Area visa-free.
By May 2023, all visitors that currently do not need a visa to enter Europe will be expected to apply for an ETIAS travel authorisation.
While it may sound complex – don’t panic – it’s simple enough. Here’s what we know so far.
Why introduce ETIAS?
The sad truth is terrorism. The decision to implement ETIAS was made around four years ago, following a rise in terrorist attacks across Europe, including the November 2015 Paris attacks and the 2016 Brussels bombings.
ETIAS will be a largely automated IT system created to identify any security or irregular migratory risks posed by visa-exempt visitors travelling to the Schengen Area, whilst at the same time facilitate crossing borders for the vast majority of travellers who do not pose such risks.European Commission
The European Union has created this visa waiver programme “to protect and strengthen its borders”. Another benefit – it also promises make your arrival experience more efficient.
EU authorities believe that the ETIAS will make Europe safer, not just for its citizens, but for those who wish to visit the continent as well.
It doesn’t just apply to Singaporeans
In case you were wondering, Singapore is probably not really the EU’s prime focus for tourists posing a terrorist threat! The new rules will apply to citizens of any country currently benefitting from Visa-free travel to the area.
That means US, Canadian, Australian and UK citizens will all need to apply for an ETIAS in order to travel to these 26 countries from May 2023, so don’t feel singled out!
Citizens of around 60 countries will need to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver when visiting the Schengen Zone.
Citizens of these countries who are family members of an EU citizen and who hold a residence card or residence permit, or those already holding long-stay visas in a Schengen Area country, will not need to apply for an ETIAS.
What is the Schengen Area?
Most of our readers aren’t clued up on what the Schengen Area (sometimes referred to as the ‘Schengen Zone’) actually is.
It’s a little confusing because there are European countries that are:
- Not EU member states and aren’t in Schengen (e.g. United Kingdom)
- Not EU member states and are in Schengen (e.g. Norway)
- EU member states and aren’t in Schengen (e.g. Cyprus)
- EU member states and are in Schengen (e.g. France)
Plus micro-states (Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City).
How much will it cost?
It will cost 7 Euros (around S$11 at the time of writing) for most people to apply for the ETIAS.
Anyone under the age of 18 or over the age of 70 at the time of application will not need to pay for an ETIAS (though they will still require one).
If you are aged 70 and applying for an ETIAS for a trip you’ll take after turning 71, try to delay your application until on or after your 71st birthday to avoid the fee.
Good news here is that most families with young children will only have to pay for the adults in their party prior to travel.Pro Tip: ETIAS covers you for business trips as well as tourism, so if you travel to a Schengen Area country for work purposes, get your employer to pay for your ETIAS, which will then also cover you for leisure trips.
How long will an ETIAS last?
Once approved, your ETIAS will be good for multiple visits to Schengen Area countries during a 3-year period, or will expire on the same date as your passport if that comes up sooner.
For any 17-year-olds in your family, it will be worth applying for an ETIAS just prior to their 18th birthday, regardless of whether you have any trips to Europe planned. They will then be covered for unlimited trips until the age of 21, for no fee.
As ETIAS is valid for the entire Schengen Zone, so you can use a single approval to visit any number of European destinations (e.g. France, Spain, Switzerland and Germany), either on the same trip or across several trips.
There will be no need to reapply before each trip to Europe while you hold a valid ETIAS liked to the same passport.
You can arrive right up the the final validity date of your ETIAS, however if you enter the Schengen Zone within 90 days of its expiry, the border guard or automated border system will be obliged to inform you of:
- the remaining validity period;
- the possibility to submit an application for a new ETIAS even during your stay in the Zone;
- the obligation to be in possession of a valid ETIAS for the entire duration of your short stay.
Your ETIAS cannot be transferred to a new passport
The ETIAS authorisation is electronically linked to the chip in your travel document and cannot be transferred to another passport.
Therefore if your passport expires within the 3-year validity period, a new ETIAS visa waiver must be obtained.
How to apply
Ahead of ETIAS coming into force, there will be a dedicated website set up to handle applications. There will also be an app for mobile devices.
There are likely to be several unofficial (but very convincing-looking) websites offering the service, like there are with the US ESTA, which may cost you more money, might not actually apply for your ETIAS at all, and may risk exposing your personal details.
We will share the official ETIAS application link here once it’s live (the proposed domain, not yet available, is etias.europa.eu).
You’ll be able to apply from any internet-connected device, like a PC, tablet or mobile phone, so don’t worry – there’s no need to visit an embassy.
From May 2023, you’ll need the following in order to apply:
- A valid Singapore passport with at least 3 months remaining from the date of arrival in Europe
- A current email address (to receive the visa waiver)
- A valid credit or debit card (in order to make the payment)
If you don’t have all these things, you will not be able to obtain an EU visa waiver, and therefore will not be able to travel to the Schengen Zone once ETIAS is in force.
Information required for the application will include:
- Personal details
- Passport details
- Personal, employment and security questions
You will also be asked to select which country you first intend to enter the Schengen Zone via using your ETIAS. This will not compel you to do so, but rather it assigns the jurisdiction to a specific member state to decide on your application, in the case where manual processing is required.
For the vast majority of applications, approval for the ETIAS will be instantaneous, and you’ll receive a confirmation message by email. The EU aims for this to apply in over 95% of cases.
Your travel waiver is then electronically linked to your passport, so when you go to the airport to take your flight, the check-in staff or kiosk system will be able to verify that you’re authorised to travel. There will be no need to print any paper documents.
What are they checking?
The main aim of the ETIAS visa waiver is to strengthen Europe’s borders, while speeding up the arrival process for travellers.
As a result, the information provided by the applicant is checked against various security databases. These systems include:
- EUROPOL DATA
- TDAWN (INTERPOL)
- SLTD (INTERPOL)
If your details generate a ‘hit’ on any of these systems, your application will undergo manual processing, which can take up to four days. In exceptional circumstances, a decision can be delayed by up to four weeks, so once the system is in place be sure to apply for your ETIAS in good time, ideally at least a month before your intended travel.
If there is a hit against any of the searched databases or an undecided outcome of the automated process, manual handling of the application will take place by a Central Unit in the European Border and Coast Guard Agency or by a Member State team.
This can prolong the response time to the visa-exempt third country national by up to 96 hours. In very exceptional circumstances further information may be asked of applicants and further procedural steps may be necessary, but in all cases a final decision shall be taken within four weeks of their application.European Commission
There will be a right for you to appeal any ETIAS refusal.
Can I get an ETIAS at the check-in desk?
No. Passengers flying to one of the 26 Schengen countries will not be allowed to check in for their first flight if they have not obtained an ETIAS in advance.
While you can then apply online, if your application is not immediately or quickly approved there’s really not much the airline can do.
Will a valid ETIAS guarantee entry into Europe?
No. While the ETIAS is partly designed to ‘smooth’ your arrival, it is important to know in advance that the approval of an ETIAS is not a guarantee of entry into Europe.
If the border officials have any suspicions or evidence that a visitor from Singapore intends to contravene the terms of their ETIAS, they can deny entry.
This can include the following situations:
- The official believes the ETIAS holder is intending to seek employment whilst in Europe
- The official believes the ETIAS holder is planning to overstay their visa waiver authorisation
- The official believes the holder of the ETIAS is carrying or attempting to import illegal weapons, firearms and/or other contraband into the country
Also, be aware that border guards may ask you on arrival to provide evidence for the following:
- Sufficient funds for the duration of your vacation or business trip to Europe
- Valid health insurance for the Schengen Area
- Return tickets to Singapore or proof of onward travel from Europe
Can I be granted an ETIAS with a criminal record?
As part of the application process, criminal records will be taken into account, however this does not necessarily preclude you from obtaining a travel waiver and those with a criminal background should not be deterred from applying.
For the most part, only individuals considered to be a current threat will be denied an ETIAS. Unless you have a history of serious cross-border crime or terrorism offences, a rejection is unlikely.
Can your ETIAS be cancelled?
Yes. While it’s likely to be rare, an ETIAS that has already been granted can be revoked if:
- it was obtained fraudulently or if the conditions under which the authorisation was issued are no longer met; or
- there is a new alert in European security databases regarding a refusal of entry or a reported lost or stolen travel document
Dual citizenship for Singaporeans is very rare, since it is generally not permitted.
Some people do hold this status though, which usually arises if they were born abroad to Singaporean parents and also acquired the nationality of their birth country.
If you are a dual national of both Singapore and one of the 26 Schengen Area countries, you do not need to apply for an ETIAS, provided you enter the Schengen Zone using your EU passport.
People with dual citizenship who have passports from two ETIAS eligible non-EU countries (e.g. Japan and Singapore) can apply using either one.
The United Kingdom and Ireland are NOT included
The United Kingdom (UK), which is neither an EU member country nor part of the Schengen Area, is not part of the ETIAS programme.
That’s important to clarify because the UK was originally involved in developing ETIAS when it was an EU member state, before the country’s referendum on EU membership.
Singapore citizens will continue to be allowed to travel visa-free to the UK for up to six months at a time, as part of a reciprocal agreement between the two countries, without the need to apply for a visa waiver, even after 2023.
That means if your Europe trip is solely to the UK, you will not need to apply for an ETIAS, however you will still need one if you are planning to visit a Schengen Area country during your trip (e.g. both London and Paris).
You will also not need an ETIAS visa waiver to travel to the Republic of Ireland, which like the UK is not part of the Schengen Area. Singapore citizens will continue to be able to travel visa-free to Ireland for up to three months at a time.
You will also not require an ETIAS for travel to these other non-Schengen Area countries:
These four countries are in the process of joining the Schengen Zone (indeed all four are legally obliged to do so eventually), and will therefore require an ETIAS for travel sometime in the future.
If you are transiting one of the 26 Schengen Area countries en-route to your final destination outside the zone, you will generally not need an ETIAS in order to be permitted to check in for your first flight.
That’s provided you are travelling on a single ticket, checked through to your final destination outside Schengen, and will not leave the international departures (airside) area of the transit airport.
For example, travelling with a Singapore passport from Singapore to London via Zurich with SWISS on one ticket will not require you to have a valid ETIAS, since it is not required for your final destination and you will not pass through immigration control at the transit point.
If you are travelling on separate tickets, and will therefore have to enter the public or landside area of the transit airport, you will require a valid ETIAS to check-in for your flight.
For example, taking a short easyJet flight from London to Amsterdam to then connect onto a Singapore Airlines flight back home, a strategy many of our readers use when redeeming in order to avoid the UK’s extortionate Air Passenger Duty, will require you to hold a valid ETIAS.
It may therefore be better for many of our readers and their families to have a valid ETIAS at all times, for this kind of flexibility, even if they don’t intend to visit a Schengen country.
Should students get an ETIAS?
While the ETIAS does permit short-term study in Europe (up to 3 months), it is not a substitute for a student or working visa.
If you wish to live, study, work, or remain in Europe for longer than 90 days, you will have to apply for a visa suitable for your situation from May 2023 (in the same way you currently do).
Renewing your ETIAS
You will be able to renew your ETIAS for a further three years within 120 days of its expiry, by following the same online process, providing your personal details and passport information.
It will be a good idea to set a calendar reminder to do so, but provided you still have the same email address you will also be automatically reminded.
Four months (120 days) before the expiry of your ETIAS, they’ll let you know:
- the expiry date of your travel authorisation;
- the possibility to submit an application for a new travel authorisation;
- a reminder of your obligation to be in possession of a valid travel authorisation for the entire duration of any short stay in the Schengen Zone.
Provided your circumstances have not changed, a new ETIAS should be approved within minutes.
The prevailing fee, currently set at 7 Euros or around S$11, is payable for ETIAS renewals – unless you have hit the magic age of 71 come renewal time.
Once the formal roll out date and official application website for ETIAS are announced, we’ll be sure to update you all, but in the meantime you can learn more information about the scheme at the following links.
Sadly, Europe has been beset with terrorist attacks over recent years.
One solution in the EU’s desire to improve the situation is to move to a US-style visa waiver programme, allowing these 26 Schengen Area countries to collectively vet genuine tourists and business travellers through a variety of intelligence databases in advance of their departure, to ensure they likely pose no threat.
Doing so also promises to speed up the arrival process for those who are approved, and reduce the number of refusals at the border itself.
Of course, 99.9% of our readers have nothing to fear from this. While ETIAS will add a little bureaucracy to your Europe trips in future, the key is to be aware of the upcoming rule, and be prepared to plan in advance.
Cynics of course will see ETIAS purely as a money making exercise. Estimated revenue, all of which goes into the EU budget, is €280 million per year, against estimated running costs of €80 million per year, but whatever you think of the scheme – it’s going to be compulsory.
Thankfully, costs for a family are somewhat tempered by allowing those under 18 and over 70 a free ETIAS application.
Perhaps most importantly, if you’re planning to travel on an unprotected connection (i.e. on two separately booked flights) through a Schengen Area country while flying between two non-Schengen countries, you’ll still need a valid ETIAS, otherwise you won’t be allowed to check in for the first leg of your journey, once the scheme is in place.
For many of our readers that means always having a valid ETIAS approval linked to your passport, for the sake of around S$11 once every three years, will make perfect sense.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)