New Zealanders heading to the EU will soon need to add an "Etias" authorisation to their list of holiday essentials.
From 2021, New Zealander is one of sixty countries whose citizens will be required to apply in advance for an Etias authorisation.
Previously countries like New Zealand and the United States enjoyed an automatic 90 day entry visa to countries in the EU. However, in under two years' time the Etias will be required.
The programme - which stands for 'European travel Information and Authorization System' - has already caused huge amounts of confusion for the countries to which it applies.
This uncertainty was only doubled when EU president Jeanne Claude Juncker announced the programme as emphatically "not a visa."
The system which was first outlined in the 2016 Bratislava Roadmap (something that also sounds like it would be useful on a trip to Europe) is used for processing the details of nationalities who would normally be granted 90-day entry visas.
It is described as "an automated IT system" created to identify any risks associated with an otherwise visa-exempt visitor, and is expected to cost around € 7 per applicant, or $12.
To the eyes of the average traveller: it seems increasingly like this European 'not a visa' e-document – which must be paid and applied for in advance, and is required for entry to the EU – will be a visa in every aspect but name alone.
The confusion surrounding the Etias is understandable.
It is most similar to the 'Esta' visa waver programme for visiting the United States.
The document will allow visitors to apply for 90 days stay for leisure and will last three years, so no need to reapply on every entry.
Kiwis will be able to apply online for the document, a process that is expected to take no longer than 10 minutes. The processing fee is used in part to offset the background checks for potential visitors – working with databases from SIS, Interpol and Europol.
So far, so virtually painless.
Unless of course there is a special grounds on background for refusing the digital application.
The European commission explains that if there is "a hit from the automated application processing, the application will undergo manual processing by staff of the ETIAS."
This manual assessment is to be conducted by the European Coast or Border Guard, and could prolong the response time by 96 hours without any certainty of approval.
Ultimately the commission says it will be up to air carriers or coach companies to check their passengers have the document before allowing passengers to board.
And then you're free to gaily traipse though the cobbled streets of Europe?
Well. . . not quite. It is only required for the Schengen area - essentially mainland Europe.
There are some notable exceptions for the programme including the UK and Ireland - whose sea borders saw them opt out of the agreement - and Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus.
You will not need a authorisation to enter Britain, not matter what stage of Brexit has been reached by 2021.
But the Etias will be similar in principal and cost to applying for the American visa-waiver programme, which is both a good and a bad thing.
As we covered for NZ Herald Travel readers last year many Kiwis were being duped into paying private companies up to 10 times more for US Esta clearance.
While the official process of applying for the document is not yet published, the amount of unofficial private websites offering assistance to EU Etias applicants has already mushroomed.
Moving the process online may speed it up, but not make it any clearer.
ETIAS authorisation: What Kiwis need to know
1. What is new requirement?
It is an authorization called an ETIAS, which stands for the European Travel Information and Authorization System. (Both the system and the authorisation seem to be called ETIAS.)
2. Who needs to get it?
Initially, citizens of 60 countries, including New Zealand.
3. When does this go into effect?
This new system is expected to be implemented in 2021.
4. What will it cost me to get an ETIAS?
This has not been decided yet. The ETIAS information site says suggestions range between 7 and 60 euros. The money will go to the EU budget.
5. What does ETIAS authorize me to do?
It authorises you to enter and to travel in the EU Schengen Area for up to 90 days.
6. What is the Schengen Area?
It is a group of 26 European countries that banded together to form one entity for the purposes of passport and border control. Citizens of a Schengen zone country can visit the other countries passport- and visa-free.
7. Is the Schengen area the same as the European Union?
Not exactly. It includes EU member countries Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and as well as nonmembers countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, plus the microstates of Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City.
8. Which EU countries are not in the Schengen Agreement?
The United Kingdom and Ireland, which have chosen not to be part of the agreement, and Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus, which are expected to eventually join.
9. Why is it called the Schengen Agreement?
The treaty that created the zone was signed on a ship on the Moselle River in Luxembourg, near a small town called Schengen. Agreements between nations are often named for where they were crafted: Kyoto Protocol, Oslo Accord, Geneva Conventions, Treaty of Versailles, Treaty of Paris . . .
10. How long will my ETIAS be valid?
Three years. You can visit Europe for up to 90 days at a time, but cannot be there for more than 90 days in each 180-day period.
11. How do I get an ETIAS authorization?
You apply online. . . eventually.
12. What do I need to have to apply?
You need a valid passport that will not expire within three months of your travel to the EU (if you are staying 90 days, it should be valid for six months). You will also need a credit or debit card and email address.
13. What information will I have to provide?
Basic information, including your name, age, gender, nationality, date and place of birth, passport information, address and contact information and first Schengen country you plan to visit. You will also have to answer background and security questions.
14. How long will it take to get this authorisation?
It will take about 10 minutes to fill out the online form and pay. Your application will then be cross-checked against European border security and criminal databases. If there are no problems with your application, you should receive authorization by email within minutes.
15. What if there is a problem?
You will get an email within 96 hours stating the reasons for refusal and providing instructions for appealing. An appeal should be decided within four weeks.
16. What will I get to prove I have ETIAS authorization?
According to a European Commission spokesman, you will not receive anything physical because "the ETIAS is an authorization issued in an IT system."
17. Who will check that I have this authorization?
Your ETIAS status will be checked electronically before you board an airline and at borders. The spokesman said the airline check will usually "be carried out at the check-in time. Air carriers will automatically send a query to ETIAS and will receive, in a matter of seconds, a reply whether the person has or not a valid travel authorization."
18. And where?
At Schengen area border crossing points, your ETIAS status will be checked by the European Entry/Exit System (EES), an IT system that is in development. "The EES will replace the manual stamping of passports at entries and exits to and from the Schengen area," the spokesman said. (This will be a disappointment for travelers who take pride in possessing a well-stamped passport.)
19. What about my kids?
Everyone visiting the EU will need ETIAS authorization.
20. But they do not have an email address or debit card.
Guardians of children under age 18 can fill out the forms for them. There is no fee for children under 18 or people older than 70.
21. How, exactly, does this differ from a visa?
A visa is required to remain in a Schengen zone country for more than 90 days. A visa requires much more information than ETIAS, such as including photos, a copy of your itinerary and proof you can financially support yourself. Visas for the purpose of employment or studying require even more information.
22. How will Brexit affect this?
From an New Zealand standpoint, not at all. Whether it stays in the EU or not, the United Kingdom is not part of ETIAS, so you will not need an ETIAS to visit there. From a British standpoint, it appears U.K. residents will have to obtain an ETIAS to visit countries in the Schengen Zone.
23. Why do countries do this?
Mostly for security. It allows countries to prescreen people long-distance, rather than in a passport control line. It also should help cut down on illegal migration.
26. But do I have to enter through the country I said I planned to visit first? What if I change my plans?
The question regarding the first country an applicant plans to visit, "relates to the intention of travel and stay and is not an obligation for the traveller to travel and enter through that specified Member State, as indeed travel plans may have changed or not having been made in advance of applying for ETIAS," the spokesman said
Additional research and reporting by Elizabeth Chang of the Washington Post