Dear European Union,

I saw your tweet stating…


Thank you for taking the time to clarify that the new measures you’ll be adding in 2021, which require foreign travellers to fill out a form, send an application and pay a mandatory fee are not in fact “visas”. It’s really important that you took the time to clarify this to try and make us all feel stupid, because every travel visa I’ve ever previously obtained required filling out a form, sending an application and paying a mandatory fee before traveling. You can see where the confusion began, at least for me.

Actually, yesterday one of your own employees shared the same confusion when they were quoted in a major media brief stating…

“The ETIAS visa for Americans is a multiple-entry visa with few restrictions in order to promote tourism while maintaining a high level of international security,”

Dear EU, thanks for the technicalities.

Like people who feel the need to say  “Apple” after I say “Mac”, you’ve now proven that you are the cool kids who know better than everyone and that your ability to quote technicalities makes you far superior to those who opt for common slang. Even worse, you already called it a visa. You can say this is about preventing terrorism, or pre travel screening, but isn’t that exactly what a visa is designed to do? Just call it a visa. I’m fine with the money, the effort and all that – heck, the US already did it via the ESTA program – just don’t pretend its not a visa.

Your new thingy is said to go like this, from your own website: Travellers will have to complete an online applicationvia a dedicated website or an application for mobile devices.All non-EU nationals who do not need a visa to travel to the Schengen area will have to apply for a travel authorisation through the ETIAS system prior to their trip. The validity will be for a period of three years. An ETIAS authorisation will be valid for an unlimited number of entries.

The definition of a visa, as found on Wikipedia is: A visa s a conditional authorization granted by a country to a foreigner, allowing them to enter, remain within, or to leave that country. Visas typically include limits on the duration of the foreigner’s stay, territory within the country they may enter, the dates they may enter, the number of permitted visits or an individual’s right to work in the country in question.

Holy cow, they sound an awful lot alike.

I covered the news because US travellers, like UK and other non EU travellers who frequent the European Union really need to know that times will be changing. Today, I can find a flight to Europe and travel… today. Once you open up your new visa, whoops, I mean ETIAS, I can’t.

You’ve chosen to line your pockets with tourist dollars the way the United States has with its own “non visa” known as the ESTA and that’s absolutely fine. Anyone who can pay $300 plus hotels, plus food, plus transfers can probably pay your fee which will be between $10-$20, but you couldn’t just be happy with that.

You just had to to make the world feel dumb, by saying that your system is just going to be a special electronic authorization for travel and not a visa. To 99.9999% of the world, the only thing other than money holding them back from visiting another country at a moments notice is a visa. You can get as technical as you want, it’s not doing you any favours.

The word visa makes the world feel more fractured and closed off than ever before, and every tourism board is aiming to remove visa restrictions to increase visitors. To stave off bad press, the UAE added agreements to become the world’s “most powerful passport”, allowing visa free travel to more nations than any other. This clarification of yours is just a little trick to get around slipping in the rankings.

That’s the sole and entire reason you felt the need to clarify. Adding visa requirements is bad press. Pretending a visa isn’t a visa, and is just an online form which actually does the exact same thing is like pretending that a “bribe” was in fact just a little “gift”. Potato, potaaato it’s the same damn thing.

I’ll look forward to filling out your electronic VISA on January 1st, 2021.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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27 Comments

  1. How about you check how the USA is referring to the ESTA as not being as VISA:
    “ESTA is not a visa. It does not meet the legal requirements to serve in lieu of a U.S. visa when a visa is required. Travelers that possess a valid U.S. visa may travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose it was issued. Travelers traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for an ESTA. In the same way that a valid visa does not guarantee admission to the United States, an approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admission to the United States.”
    (citazion from https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ -> What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?

    1. How about you check and learn that no visa is a guarantee of admission to any country. All visas can be revoked at a moments notice and NEVER guarantee entry. Heck, citizenship can be revoked at a moments notice.

      I’m going to Australia soon. They require a visa for US travellers. I must…

      1) fill out a form, pay a fee, send an application and likely get approved within <24 hours.

      In 2021 if I go to EUrope, I must...

      1) fill out a form, pay a fee, send an application, and likely get approved within <24 hours.

      Call it what you will, in any normal terms its a visa.

  2. Fascinating that they are so defensive. The website you linked to in your previous post on this topic clearly brands the ETIAS as a “Visa for Europe” (see the graphic in the top left corner). Also, looking at the information on ETIAS Visa for Canadians, they don’t mince words. It’s a visa.

    Have a look here:
    https://www.etiasvisa.com/etias-requirements/canadians

    Even the page for Americans, which tries to weasel out of using the V-word, slips up in the first line.

    See for yourself:
    https://www.etiasvisa.com/etias-requirements/americans

    Then there is the URL: etiasvisa dot com.

    1. Yultide, you should be carfeul with these kinds of websites, there is nothing official about them and I wouldn’t go spreading the link. They set themselves up to look official and informative and essentially rip tourists off by tricking them into thinking they are on the official site for applying for the visa / waiver, when in fact they are not. These ‘agencies’ charge tourists a fee for completing the application, when the tourist should only be paying the eg, $14 required.

      1. Thanks Andreas.

        I followed the link in the previous post to that website. I have since found a European Commission official website describing it as not being a visa.

        That said, it certainly quacks like a duck. Other than the lack of physicality (and the need to send your passport away to a consulate to obtain one) the process of using these Electronic Travel thingies is very visa-like. My concern is that it represents a thickening of borders with collection of personal information as part of the securitization of travel. I personally feel some comfort with Europe as they have a strong human rights and privacy record, but collecting information because they can still leaves me feeling uneasy. And it’s obviously not just Europe.

        There are also some practical issues. For example, the European version will be valid for three years, whist the Australian one is valid for one year. Being electronic, it will increase the need for record keeping on the part of the traveller to ensure one always has a valid ET thingy if one travels frequently.

        Another issue is transit. I transited through Australia last year and couldn’t get a satisfactory answer as to whether I needed an ET whatsit or note, so out of an abundance of caution I decided not to risk being denied boarding and obtained the authorisation. The unofficial site above suggests that an ETIAS will be required for transit whilst the official site mentioned above doesn’t mention the issue. It’s not the end of the universe, but it’s still another piece of administrivia representing an erosion of freedom through the growth of the electronic surveillance state.

  3. Your article is dumber than the tweet. Both EU and USA require proper “visas” for many other nationalities and the process in obtaining them is complicated. This is just a visa-waiver program… same one USA has had for a long time. Bloggers must not be so defensive when they rush to title a post for clickbait and then people in the comments correct them… then they feel they must write a second post to defend the first.

    1. Haha. Yes, getting an H1B or P1 is a very different story, but almost all travelers, even when paperwork isn’t required are entering under terms, generally 90 day tourist visas. It’s all a visa, whether it requires 19 interviews, years of tax returns, biometrics and stamping or an online form.

      So, no. My article isn’t dumb, pretending that this isn’t a visa is dumb.

  4. I’m a US/EU dual citizen, so this won’t affect me. I’m also originally a citizen of a non-WVP country, so (1) I know the US visa process well, and (2) there’s no “pent-up bitterness” over having been subjected to the VWP.

    “filling out a form, sending an application and paying a mandatory fee” may be characteristics of visas, but that’s not all there is to them, in any country. That’s a false equivalency.

    Wikipedia is not the authority on legal definitions. The quality of articles depends on its editors’ judgment and biases; articles in one language are aimed at speakers of the same, sometimes placing readability above precision; and articles translated from other languages will often share those same characteristics (so you can’t assume that an article in e.g. Thai won’t be a simple translation of the English one, with its inherent misrepresentations). One shouldn’t use Wikipedia as a source for any topic, just a starting point for further research.

    Different countries/entities have different definitions for visas. The US doesn’t consider the VWP to be a true visa, and the EU doesn’t consider ETIAS to be a true visa either. The EU and US visa processes are vastly different from these waiver/preauthorization programs; perhaps if you knew what an EU visa (or a US visa, for that matter) actually entails, you wouldn’t have a problem with what they’re calling this. If anything, your own thinking is clouded by either the lack of experience with them or by the fact that this is a new process/restriction.

    The way the EU (and the US, for that matter) defines “visa” is really all that should matter when judging the EU’s comments on the matter. Not Wikipedia, not your “gut feeling,” not your future discomfort, not your stance on free passage, not your privilege. Sure, the EU’s act of posting on Twitter may be a PR move, meant to sway public opinion; but at least it’s based on actual countries’ legal definitions, not personal feelings or biases.

    In the end, pedantry is important for legal definitions or principles.

  5. Gilbert I like your blog. However I really don’t think it makes much difference on whether it’s a visa or some other form of authorisation to enter. Honestly who cares on this one? As I’ve said elsewhere the US has been telling the rest of us that the ESTA is not a visa for many years. Whatever it is, there’s very little else to say on the matter – you’ll find no-one covered by the US Visa Waiver program has any sympathy with Americans paying €7 and filling out a form.

  6. “This is not a visa”;
    “we’ve enhanced our catering”;
    -On removal of included catering
    “we are and always will be a premium airline…”;
    -After having installed a seatpitch lower than LCCs, removed catering, removed seat recline, reduced restroom number and space and introduced seat charging

    https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak
    In todays travel world, newspeak rules. Fact.

  7. You clearly got used to having a free pass to anywhere you go. As American foreign policy stands now, having a US passport will more and more be a burden (and not only for paying taxes wherever you live in the world): by only being reciprocal with entry requirements, you’ll have a glimpse of what it feels like for a foreigner (or as you define it, an “alien”) to enter the US. I mean a glimpse because I don’t know of any other border control personnel who can be more obnoxious than US Customs and Border Patrol.
    Look at the mirror before criticizing other countries for imposing a similar burden on you (but softer in the amount of information requested – have you ever filled an ESTA form in your bratty life?) ,

  8. “Dear European Union,
    ….
    ….
    Actually, yesterday one of your own employees shared the same confusion when they were quoted in a major media brief stating…

    “The ETIAS visa for Americans is a multiple-entry visa with few restrictions in order to promote tourism while maintaining a high level of international security,”
    ===========================
    ROFLMIA.

    That’s not from an EU employee. You’ve lifted that from a fake site harvesting contacts so they can spam people and con them into paying way over the odds for a “visa service” that isn’t, in exactly the same way fake ESTA sites have been ripping people off. That site (etiasvisa dot com) is registered in San Francisco. Do you think the EU would register an official site using a California based hosting site?

    Now who’s the dumb one?

      1. Except the Independent has also lifted the quote from the fake website and attributed it to “a spokesperson for the EU”. Go further down the Indy article and it’s pulled another one word for word.

        “To obtain the new ETIAS visa US citizens will require a “valid passport, a credit or debit card and an email account”, a spokesperson for the EU said.”

        You’re the one accusing the EU of being dumb, yet are using fake quotes. Lots of media outlets have got it wrong, and having been corrected by the EU have their later articles correct, including The Hill.

        The EU’s statements have always stated categorically that the ETIAS is *not* a visa – http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-4367_en.htm

  9. The ESTA scheme doesn’t claim and never has claimed to be a visa scheme. Before it went online it was known as the ‘visa waiver’ scheme, and that is just what it is. What is scary is that visas actually give you rights, and by waiving those rights when you apply for ESTA (and presumably the upcoming European scheme) you lay yourself open to a terrifying panoply of actions by the authorities, with no right to appeal against them (because you have waived the rights the visa gave you).

  10. It is interesting to see how this new simple regulation, visa or not-a-visa, creates such a bruhaha with Americans. Citizens of many countries have gone thru worse when traveling to other countries including the US (one of the worst, if I may say so), yet they follow the rules (again, without debating what the name of the ‘permit’ is or how intense the requirements are). Many just follow the old adage: if you can’t accept or don’t want to follow the rules, or just don’t like the name, then don’t travel there. After all, each country is her own sovereign, and is free to apply whatever rules she wants without having to explain the reasons, or the name for that matter.

  11. Visas normally require personal attendance at Embassy or Consulate and specifically permit subject to inspection at point of entry certain activities for a certain period and are valid for a fixed time.
    The ESTA is a visa waiver program set up for low risk travelers from low risk countries, does not require visits to an embassy or consulate with interviews and supporting paperwork. It waives the need for a visa for the purposes of transit, tourism or business for a period up to 3 months and needs to be updated every few years. The fee basically covers the APIS fees.
    The EU thing is just an attempt to say look how important we are. Another reason to say been there done that for me.
    Just wish someone with less opinion and more intelligence wrote these pieces.

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