The EU has delayed the introduction of a €7 visa-waiver form to enter its passport-free zone, meaning British travellers are unlikely to face the charge until 2024 at the earliest.
The European travel information and authorisation system (Etias), which applies to non-EU citizens from 60 countries that have visa-free travel with the EU, is now scheduled to start operating from November 2023. Travellers will then benefit from a six-month transition period while border authorities run information campaigns on the new requirements.
Etias, which is modelled on the US Esta scheme, means non-EU travellers will have to fill in a form and pay €7 (£5.91) before entering Europe’s passport-free zone. The €7 fee will apply to everyone aged between 18 and 70 and is valid for multiple visits over three years. In most cases approval is expected to be granted within minutes.
Etias had been scheduled to start operating at the end of 2022, then May 2023, but has been postponed by a further six months, a delay first reported by the website SchengenVisaInfo.com.
The European Commission published the new start date on its website, without providing a reason for the delay.
According to an EU source, the six-month transition period will be followed by a grace period of unknown length when travellers crossing the EU border for the first time under the requirements will be given some leeway.
Some British commentators have denounced Etias as a “Brexit punishment” despite the fact the plans predate the EU referendum and were supported by the British government on security grounds during the UK’s time as an member state.
It has been suggested the scheme could simplify life for British travellers. Many Britons going to the continent faced gridlock at the port of Dover at the start of the school holidays last month when peak demand collided with the post-Brexit legal requirements for more exacting passport checks, as well as temporary staff shortages.
“Having an Etias means that Britons will be able to skip some of the checks they undergo now, as all their information will be available in their Etias. Border guards won’t even have to ask the questions that they ask now,” said Besart Bajrami, founder of SchengenVisaInfo.com.
About 1.4 billion people have the right of visa-free travel to the EU, according to a European Commission report published in May.
The form will be required to enter all countries inside the EU’s border-free zone, including Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, which are yet to join the Schengen area. Citizens from Ireland, an EU member state not in the Schengen zone, will be exempt from the Etias form.