Amid preparations for the launch of its new ETIAS travel permit, set to come into effect next year, the European Union (EU) has issued a warning for Americans about fake websites claiming to participate in the application process or even encouraging travelers to submit their personal information and credit card details.
The ETIAS will apply to every U.S., Canadian, UK, and other visa-free passport holder entering the Schengen Zone as a tourist. It is expected to reinforce Europe’s security at its external borders and, alongside the long-awaited EES – Entry and Exit System – help authorities promptly identify irregular migrants and ‘overstayers’.
Trials will begin soon, but the official ETIAS platform has yet to be launched – unlike other unofficial sources would have you believe:
What Is An ETIAS Travel Permit?
The ETIAS is Europe’s response to America’s own ESTA, Canada’s ETA, Australia’s Electronic Travel Authority, and New Zealand’s NZeTA: traveling to these countries, Europeans have been subject to submitting personal details in advance, such as passport number, as well as pay for an ‘entry fee’, ranging between USD $17 in the U.S. and US$32.80 in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, traveling to Schengen Europe, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Kiwis were simply required to bring a valid passport that would not expire for at least 3 months following departure from the continent. This all changes next year when lawmakers in Brussels will begin applying reciprocity and tightening border checks.
All visa-exempt nationals must obtain a Travel Authorization for Europe beginning November 2023 and renew it every three years to continue being allowed entry. However, amid a confusing roll-out involving a one-year delay and lots of unaddressed rumors, scammers took the opportunity to prey on naive tourists who may be feeling lost.
Watch Out For The ETIAS Scammers
Several websites have popped up lately, offering their own advice on the program or even an ‘application’ page. To avoid increasing their web traffic and contributing to this unlawful practice, we are refraining from citing or linking them, but by searching for ‘ETIAS’ on Google, you will find they rank dangerously high on the search engine.
In fact, much higher than they should: the EU’s own fact sheet on ETIAS occasionally charts lower on Google’s initial page depending on the terms used, which indicates a huge number of tourists could be falling victim to online scams. This has led the EU to issue a warning concerning the deluge of information, most of it inaccurate, on the new travel permit.
As reported by The Times, Brussels acknowledges there are ‘attempts to mislead applicants into believing that their site is the official channel for submitting an ETIAS application‘. At this point, ETIAs is currently ‘not in operation,‘ and no permits are being processed, though once they are, step-by-step guidance will be available on this link.
Just don’t panic.
How To Identify Official EU Websites
There is an easy way to distinguish between official and fake EU/ETIAS websites. European channels are always registered under the europa.eu domain; conversely, those ending in ‘dot com’ or ‘dot org’ are not official and should not be trusted unless, of course, they are websites specializing in Schengen and/or ETIAS-related news only.
EU spokespeople added that these imitators ‘may give the false impression that the additional fee charged by the commercial intermediary is a mandatory part of the application process‘. As it turns out, it is not: according to Frontex, the European Border, and Coast Guard Agency, travelers younger than 18 and those above 70 are will not be charged a fee.
Additionally, right now, no entry fees apply to travelers of any age. As for the process itself, Americans are reminded they will not be required to travel to Consulates or dispatch documents to any address. Essentially, after completing a form taking less than 10 minutes, there is a 95% chance an automatic approval will be issued ‘within minutes’.
Those who fail to meet certain requirements or whose responses lack the necessary information may face a ‘prolonged’ waiting period as their case is handled manually by Frontex. In any scenario, travelers will receive a response in the e-mail they used for signing into the platform, whether it’s an approval or a request for additional documents, within 96 hours.
Some Americans Are Exempt From The ETIAS Requirement
Only Americans with permanent resident status in the Schengen Zone or who are European dual nationals – citizens in an EU, EEA, or Switzerland – are exempt from filing an application. We assume those who have been issued any long-term entry permit, such as an EU Digital Nomad Visa, are also not included for as long as their visa lasts.
Visa-waver nationals from the U.S. and over 60 countries can continue traveling to Europe permit-free until late 2023. In the meantime, they may still need to register their fingerprints entering the bloc as part of the gradual Entry-Exit System introduction. Lastly, they are reminded any stays in the Schengen Area cannot exceed 90 days in any 180-day period.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com