Travel restrictions to Europe: What you need to know before booking your trip

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However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, regulations are quickly changing — including entry restrictions. It’s an excellent idea to stay on top of news and to be informed of current restrictions and regulations, especially if you are planning to travel. 

This article includes helpful information for travellers who wish to visit Europe, including restrictions, visa regulations, and why applying with an ETIAS form will be extremely important in the near future. 

Who needs a visa for the EU?

There are 44 countries in Europe, including 26 members in the Schengen Area. Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, participating members maintain open borders with one another. This means that individuals who have access to the Schengen zone can freely travel from one country to another without the need to re-apply for visas. 

Many governments around the world have visa-free agreements in place with the Schengen Area, and therefore do not have to apply for a visa for Europe. This includes the United States, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Japan, among others. Others, including South Africa, China, India, and Russia will need to apply for a Schengen visa before they can enter. 

Who can travel to Europe right now?

Unfortunately, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, the majority of international travel is at a standstill. Most countries in Europe are closed off to international traffic and flights have either been cut completely or scaled back. Most European Union members (such as Sweden) only recommend essential travel, such as those holding EU passports, residents of the EU, students with appropriate visas, and spouses and children of EU citizens. Other exceptions include humanitarian workers, diplomats, and asylum seekers. 

What travellers need to know about the ETIAS

Beginning in 2022, citizens will need to apply for the European Travel Information and Authorization System, also known as the ETIAS authorisation, before they can visit Europe and legally enter the Schengen zone. 

The goal of the ETIAS is to add an extra layer of security for both visitors and locals in the Schengen Area. Other benefits of rolling out the ETIAS program include better border management, smaller queues, and shorter wait times for travellers, so that you can get to your destination faster instead of waiting all day in passport control. 

It is important to note that the ETIAS will become mandatory for nationals of countries who currently do not need a visa to enter Europe. Until the end of 2022, visa-free entry is allowed for such countries. 

How to obtain an ETIAS

As we mentioned in the beginning, applying for the ETIAS will become a crucial step for travellers who want to visit Europe. Thankfully, the process is extremely simple and should only take a few minutes to complete! 

Unlike applying for a traditional visa, which might include a visit to the nearest embassy, an in-person interview, or finding a sponsor, individuals can apply for the ETIAS from the comfort of their own home. All it takes is a device with an internet connection (like a smartphone or computer), a valid email address, and a valid credit or debit card to pay the application fee. 

The ETIAS application asks a few questions regarding the individual’s personal information, passport details, travel itinerary, and a handful of yes/no questions. After the form has been filled out and the application fee has been paid, applicants can expect to receive their approved ETIAS within a few business days.  

When will we be able to travel to Europe again?

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries are re-opening and closing at a moment’s notice. In fact, many governments recently limited travel to and from South Africa after a new variant of the coronavirus, dubbed 501Y.V2, was discovered in December 2020. 

At the moment it’s still unclear when individuals will be able to visit Europe, as each country has its own rules and fluctuations in the number of cases. Some experts believe that travel will pick up once the vaccine is rolled out globally, although this might take a while. Industry experts are looking at the possibility of travel opening up in late 2021, or even 2022 depending on the circumstances. 

Many are putting a positive spin on the situation and exploring their own region. Thankfully, South Africa has plenty of places to see and things to do — and it’s possible to explore safely as long as you follow our tips. Until the disease is under control and experts believe it is safe to travel again, we’ll be checking things off our South African bucket list. 

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Original Article Posted on The South African