ETIAS and the Schengen visa: what’s the difference?

ETIAS and the Schengen visa

From late 2022, Canadian passport holders will be required to register online for ETIAS before travelling to Europe. The European Travel Information and Authorisation System is being introduced to increase border security and make Europe an even safer destination for tourists.

ETIAS is not a visa. The new system will complement the EU’s visa liberalisation programme so that Canadians continue to enjoy visa-free privileges to top destinations such as France, Italy, and Spain.

Visitors who are not eligible for visa-free access to Europe will instead need to obtain a Schengen visa. The key differences between ETIAS and a Schengen visa are explained below.

The ETIAS application is online

One of the main differences between an ETIAS visa waiver for Canadians and a Schengen visa is the application process. The ETIAS application process is fully online and can be completed from home 24 hours a day. Travellers fill in an electronic form with basic personal information and passport details before submitting the application for review.

The Schengen visa, however, is a traditional travel permit and, as such, is applied for at the consulate or embassy of the European country you will enter first, or a dedicated visa centre. Applicants should check the location of the nearest consulate and make an appointment if necessary.

ETIAS visa waivers can be approved almost immediately

Another advantage of ETIAS is that it can be obtained quickly. The ETIAS application form takes just a few minutes to complete and the vast majority of applications are reviewed and approved almost immediately.

Even when there is a hit in the system which means that the application must be reviewed manually by the ETIAS Central Unit and National Units, a decision must be reached within 2 weeks.

Anyone who needs a Schengen visa must begin the application process well in advance to allow time to book and attend an interview. In most cases, applications are processed within 15 days but they can take over a month, especially at peak times.

Documents required for ETIAS and Schengen visa

The only document required to acquire an ETIAS visa waiver is a passport issued by an eligible country. It must be a biometric passport and valid for at least 3 months from the date of entry into the Schengen Area. In most cases, no additional paperwork is requested.

Supporting documents are required to get a Schengen visa. When applying, foreign nationals must supply:

  • A passport valid for 3 months from the date of exit from the Schengen Area and issued no more than 10 years ago
  • 2 recent passport-style photos
  • Proof of onwards travel such as a return flight ticket
  • Travel insurance valid for the entire Schengen zone, minimum coverage of €30,000
  • Proof of sufficient financial means for the entire stay

Extra documents may be needed depending on the type of Schengen visa requested.

Types of ETIAS and Schengen visa

There is only one type of ETIAS visa waiver that is valid for tourism, business, and transit in ETIAS countries. All eligible travellers can apply for the same type of permit online. ETIAS is issued as a multiple-entry permit, allowing the holder to return to Europe numerous times without reapplying.

Schengen visa applicants should carefully review the various kinds of visas available before selecting the correct option for them. The different types of Schengen visa are as follows:

  • A’ Schengen visa: an airport transit visa that grants the holder permission to transit through a specific Schengen country, without leaving the airport.
  • ‘B’ Schengen visa: short term visa allowing the holder to stay on the travel zone for a specified period of time, It is further split into 3 sub-categories
    • Single-entry
    • Double-entry
    • Multiple-entry

Only travellers who have been granted several Schengen visas previously can apply for the multiple-entry visa. The first time a foreigner applies they will get a single-entry visa which can be used for just one visit.

Which countries can I visit with ETIAS?

Both ETIAS and the Schengen visa grant access to all 26 Schengen Area countries, including the European countries most visited by Canadians.

One difference is that a Schengen visa is applied for at the embassy or consulate of a specific nation. Visa holders should cross the exterior EU border into that country.

On the other hand, ETIAS is obtained online, the first country of entry is simply indicated on the application form.

Once inside the Schengen Area, both ETIAS and the visa can be used to cross the interior borders between EU countries. In both cases, the stay must not exceed 90 days in a 180 day period.

Who can apply for an ETIAS visa waiver?

As explained above, an ETIAS is faster and more convenient to apply for than a Schengen visa. The good news is that, once the system is up and running from 2022, Canadians will be among those eligible to apply.

Provided they meet the basic ETIAS requirements, Canadian tourists and business people can enjoy up to 3 months in Europe without a visa.

Canadians only need to apply for a visa if they wish to remain in Europe for longer or for a purpose not permitted by ETIAS.