How travel to the EU is changing


Fingerprints, forms and fees: 2023 will see an increase in post-Brexit border controls.

Brexit may be “done”, but from the traveller’s point of view, the full implications for travelling to the EU are becoming apparent. What will feel very different – and more bureaucratic – are the new border control systems which are due to be put in place by the EU next year.

Although the Government negotiated post-Brexit visa-free visits for British, the EU is changing its systems so that we will soon have to apply and pay for an electronic pass before we travel. Valid for three years, it will be required for any UK citizen entering the Schengen area – the border-free zone that includes most member states, plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. And, in a separate move, the EU will also require us to upload our fingerprints and other biometric data to a Europe-wide computer system.

But this isn’t some terrible Brexit retribution from Brussels. We are simply experiencing the inevitable inconveniences of losing our EU citizenship. In fact, we are just one of more than 50 countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to visit the bloc and instead must use the new system and register their biometric data.

Essentially, Brussels is following the American ESTA model which allows us to visit the United States without a visa, as long as we have registered our details and filled out the questionnaire on its computerised immigration system before we travel. The aim of both this and the new EU system, known as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), is to improve security at the border.

Travellers will need to upload personal information, including passport details, using either a new app or the website, and then answer a series of security questions about criminal offences and health. Finally, they will have to pay a €7 application fee. The EU says that most applications will then be processed “within minutes”.

Your ETIAS pass, combined with your passport, will then entitle you to visit the EU for 90 days over a 180-day period. As well as being automatically checked at the border, you will have to show it to your airline, train or ferry company before you travel. The EU says that attempting to cross the border without an ETIAS “could have serious consequences, including denial of entry to the Schengen member country”.

ETIAS is set to be introduced from late 2023. In the meantime, another major change is planned: the EU’s new Entry and Exit System (EES), which will automatically check the validity of passports and ETIAS passes (or visas) of visitors from countries outside the Schengen area each time they cross an EU external border. The system is due to be implemented in May 2023 and will replace the process of manually stamping passports.

It sounds as though it should make life easier, but EES is controversial among privacy campaigners because the new system will require you to register your fingerprints and an image of your face. These will then be stored in the form of biometric data on the EU’s computers.

This sort of monitoring for security and identity purposes is not unprecedented. The US has been collecting the fingerprints of tourists at its borders for many years. And they are required for entry into China and with some types of visa at the UK border.

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