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The European Union (EU) is planning to introduce two separate but interconnected schemes that will affect non-EU citizens travelling to most EU countries.  These are:

  • The EU Entry/Exit System (EES), which is an automated system for registering travellers from the UK and other non-EU countries each time they cross an EU external border.
  • The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), a travel authorisation to enter the EU for citizens of non-EU countries that do not require a visa to enter the EU.

EU Entry/Exit System (EES)

The introduction of EES has been much delayed. It was previously scheduled for implementation in 2022, then May 2023 and then the end of 2023. EES is now scheduled to be introduced in late 2024, with some reports indicating a launch date in early October.  This follows a request from France that implementation of EES be delayed until after the 2024 Paris Olympics.

EES will be an automated IT system for registering travellers from non-EU countries, including the UK, each time they cross a border into or out of the EU. Travellers will need to scan their passports or other travel documents at an automated self-service kiosk prior to crossing the border. This will replace the current manual stamping of passports for visitors to the Schengen area who are not nationals of EU or Schengen countries.

The system will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (ie fingerprints and captured facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit.

It is likely that non-EU/Schengen citizens who do not require a visa to enter the EU will have their fingerprints and facial images taken the first time they cross a border into the EU, once the new system is in operation. This data will normally be erased from the system for data protection reasons three years after the last trip to a country using the EES system. Nationals of countries requiring a visa to enter the EU will not have their fingerprints taken by the EES system, as they will already have provided fingerprints as part of their visa application.

According to the European Commission, the system will apply when entering 25 EU countries (all Member States apart from Cyprus and Ireland) and four non-EU countries (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein) that are part of the border-free Schengen area along with most EU Member States.

The system will apply to all nationals of countries that are not in the EU or Schengen when travelling to the 29 countries operating EES for short stays. Non-EU citizens who are legally resident or have long-stay visas to live in an EU Member State will be exempt from EES.

Impact on border checkpoints in the UK

The system will operate at the Port of Dover and Eurostar and Eurotunnel terminals in the UK. The UK government has reciprocal agreements with France that the French authorities can operate border checks at these UK departure points into the EU. Operators of services at these points have expressed concerns about the impact of EES, and its potential to increase delays at border checkpoints (pdf). The logistics of operating EES for travellers in vehicles passing through the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone are seen as particularly challenging. The UK Government has said it is engaging with local operators and the French authorities to minimise impact on border flows and traffic build-up when EES is implemented.

The EU, and countries operating EES, are still working on implementation plans for EES. Some details on how the system will operate are therefore not clear. The European Commission has previously said it is looking at introducing the system in a gradual and flexible way to avoid long waiting times at certain border crossings. However, according to a report in December 2023, the EU is aiming to have the system in operation at all border crossings on the EES launch day.

EES and Schengen rules on short stays

EES data will be used for ensuring compliance with the rules of the Schengen area on entry and permitted length of stays. It will record overstayers, and refusals of entry.

Schengen rules restrict visitors who are not nationals of EU or Schengen countries to short stays of 90 days within a 180-day period. For longer stays, non-EU/non-Schengen nationals would have to apply for longer-stay visas in line with the national rules of the Member State they wish to stay in.

The UK and Ireland have a Common Travel Area, operating separately to Schengen. This has continued since Brexit. Ireland will not be operating either EES or the ETIAS system (see below). However, neither of these systems will apply to Irish passport-holders when travelling to EU or Schengen countries.

European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

EES will work in conjunction with the new ETIAS authorisation system, which is now scheduled to become operational from mid-2025. ETIAS has been delayed alongside EES but has been scheduled to come into operation a few months after EES.

ETIAS will apply to British and other non-EU/non Schengen country citizens travelling to all EU Member States , with the exception of Ireland. It will also apply for travel to the four non-EU Schengen countries.

The EU has a list of countries (which includes the UK) whose citizens do not need a visa to travel to the EU/Schengen area. The ETIAS travel authorisation is required for citizens of all countries that have such a visa-waiver to travel to the EU/Schengen area. Again, this does not apply to UK-Ireland travel as there is a Common Travel Area between the two.

Applications for an ETIAS authorisation will be made online or via a mobile app. Applicants will be checked against EU information systems for borders and security. According to the European Commission, a travel authorisation will be issued within minutes in most cases. However, some applicants may require further checks, which could delay authorisation for up to 30 days.

The ETIAS authorisation will last for three years (after which it will need to be renewed for future visits), or until the holder’s passport expires (whichever is sooner). It will cost €7 for people aged 18 to 70. However, it will be free for under-18s and over-70s.

UK nationals and their family members who have rights to reside in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement (ie they were resident in an EU Member State at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020) are exempt from ETIAS. They can travel to other EU/Schengen countries without an ETIAS authorisation as long as they hold documents proving their status.

Other non-EU nationals are also exempt if they are holders of resident permits for any country using ETIAS.

The ETIAS system is similar to the ESTA system for travel to the USA, where visitors pay a one-off fee (currently $21) for a travel authorisation which lasts for two years.

The UK Government is also introducing a similar system for non-UK travellers to the UK, the Electronic Travel Authorisation. It plans to implement this system by the end of 2024.

Further reading

Further details on the EES system can be found on the European Commission webpage on EES. See in particular the European Commission FAQs on EES and EES factsheet (pdf).

For further details on ETIAS see the European Commission webpage and FAQs on ETIAS.

Further information on issues relating to travel to the EU, short-stays and living and working in the EU can be found in the Commons Library briefing paper, After Brexit: Visiting, working, and living in the EU.

For further details on the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation system, see House of Commons Library, Electronic travel authorisations: what’s the ETA?, 24 April 2023

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