In 2016 the European Commission began implementing a new electronic travel authorization system for the 26 Schengen Area countries in order to pre-screen visa-exempt travelers before they reach European borders.
The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) for Spain and other Schengen countries is expected to to take 5 years to become fully operational. By the end of 2022, it will be mandatory for all visa-exempt travelers to obtain an ETIAS travel authorization to visit Spain and the Schengen Area for short stays.
The ETIAS for Spain will be very similar to other electronic travel authorizations currently in use around the world, such as the ETA for Australia and the ESTA visa waiver program for the United States.
ETIAS requirements for Spain will be similar to the requirements to apply for a US ESTA visa waiver, and the two electronic travel authorizations will share some other common features. However, the two online visa waivers will also differ in some key areas.
Similarities between ETIAS Spain and the US ESTA
Like ETIAS for Spain, the US ESTA visa waiver was implemented to pre-screen visa-exempt travelers, to pre-identify any potential security risks to the United States.
Both electronic authorizations were designed to improve border management and strengthen the exterior borders of their territories, and also share the following similarities:
- Both ETIAS and ESTA are mandatory travel authorizations for visa-exempt travelers to their respective territories
- The Spain ETIAS and the US ESTA are both available through a simple online application which only takes a few minutes to complete
- The applicant is required to have a valid passport to apply for both ESTA and ETIAS
- It is necessary to complete both applications with similar personal, passport, and travel information
- Applicants are required to pay a fee using a credit or debit card when applying for both ESTA and ETIAS
- It is necessary to provide a current email address to receive an approved ETIAS, which is also true for the ESTA visa waiver
- Information provided on both the ETIAS application and ESTA form are checked against several security databases
- It is necessary for visa-exempt citizens to have an approved ETIAS or ESTA to board a plane to the relevant destination.
Additionally, both ETIAS and ESTA are multiple entry travel authorizations which permit the holder to spend a total of 90 consecutive days with each entry to their respective territories.
Those who wish to stay longer than the period allowed with each visa waiver are required to apply for a relevant visa, either a US consular visa instead of an ESTA, or a Schengen visa instead of an ETIAS.
Differences between an ESTA and ETIAS Spain
Although there are many similarities, there are also some notable differences between an ETIAS for Spain and an ESTA for the United States.
The biggest differences between the two include:
- An ESTA authorization is only valid for travel to the United States, while an ETIAS allows the holder to travel to Spain and all of the 26 Schengen countries during its validity.
- ETIAS is valid for 3 years from the date of approval, while an approved ESTA is only valid for 2.
- Citizens of 39 visa waiver countries are able to apply for the US ESTA, while there are around 60 visa-exempt nationalities who can apply for an ETIAS Spain.
It is also much easier to apply for ETIAS for Spain with a criminal record than it is to apply for an ESTA with a criminal history.
While a minor prior conviction may be considered sufficient grounds to reject an ESTA application, applicants with minor past offenses are likely to receive an approved ETIAS and be able to travel to Schengen countries without issue.