ETIAS Travel to Europe: Know Before You Go
- Posted on 28 Aug, 2020
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A quick guide to documents, etiquette, money, and more
Europe is home to stunning architecture, world-class sports teams, amazing food, and welcoming people. The Schengen area in particular (an easy-to-travel region of 26 European countries) holds such diversity in geography, language, and culture that it would take a lifetime to see it all.
Ready to start exploring? Here is a breakdown of what you need to know and do before traveling to Europe.
Before you travel to Europe, you will need to make sure you have all the proper documents.
Passport – A passport is required for all international travel, and most European countries require that your passport is valid for at least three months after your scheduled return.
Tourist Visas – For most short-term travel in the Schengen area of Europe, a visa is not required. Long-term travel (more than 90 days) will require a visa. Expected to begin in 2023, ETIAS visa waivers will be required for visa-exempt travelers.
International Driving Permit – Plan on driving in Europe? You will need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP).
Child Documents – Traveling with a minor requires additionally documents, but many European countries vary in terms of requirements. Check individual countries for guidelines.
Student ID Card – While not required, having a valid International Student Identity Card can help younger travelers get discounts all throughout Europe.
ETIAS visa waiver – If you do not require a visa, you will need an ETIAS visa waiver for Schengen area travel once ETIAS goes into effect (now expected to be early 2023).
Read on for more information. To learn about the European Travel Information and Authorization System
What is ETIAS?
Individuals from 61 countries are visa-exempt when it comes to short-term Schengen area travel, but in an effort to strengthen security, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) – a visa waiver program (VWP) has been established. The ETIAS requires all previously visa-exempt travelers to apply for a visa waiver for free travel within the Schengen area, including U.S. travelers.
The visa waiver application entirely digital and will take less than 20 minutes to complete. To apply, eligible travelers will need a valid passport at the time of application, an email address and a cred/debit card for the processing fee.
Most applications are expected to be processed and approved in minutes. In some cases, the process may take up to 3 days and rarely there may be times it takes longer. We suggest travelers apply for your waiver at least five days before traveling.
The waiver is valid for three years or when your passport expires (whichever comes first) and allows you to travel freely within the Schengen area with a generous 90-day limit within each/any 180-day period.
Law and Order
Local laws will vary, so you will want to check for specifics on the places you plan to go. Check in with your government or state departments website for specific inquiries.
Historic Site Restrictions
Many historic sites have various restrictions, but some of the more common ones include no food and drink and no high heels (they can damage the sites)
Some countries, like Germany and Switzerland, have quiet hours at night and quiet hours on Sundays. How lovely!
Many countries such as Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands require you to carry your official identification at all times, not a photocopy.
Taking photos is a highlight of travel, and the Schengen area is rife with insta-worthy spots! However, in some countries, like Spain, taking pictures of airports and some government buildings can result in a fine and possibly questioning.
Europe is all about culture and etiquette, and it is important to acknowledge these customs as a courtesy. Each country is different, so while we have provided a basic list, do a quick internet search to learn the idiosyncrasies and special customs of the specific places you plan on visiting.
A few courteous customs to mirror:
- Speak quietly: Most Europeans speak in almost a library volume (almost sotto voce), particularly when inside. Sit in a café and observe how the locals are speaking and emulate that volume.
- Polite conversation: When interacting with shopkeepers, hotel workers, cab drivers, etc., use the local language and polite casual conversation before directly asking a question or receive service. How are you? and Have a nice day! will go far. Be sure to greet the person wo whom you are speaking with Good morning, Good afternoon, or with a like greeting before launching into questions or requests.
- Produce market: If you are browsing through a market, your instinct might be to touch all the produce. Avoid that instinct and let the merchant choose for you.
- Dress code: Europeans tend to dress in a ‘casual chic’ sort of way. Sportier outfits (like sneakers/tennis shoes/kicks) and casual clothes are for the beach, not for everyday wear.
- Try the language: Learn helpful phrases in the local language like “may I,” “please,” and “thank you.”
Food and dining bring a whole new set of etiquette, some of which are country specific, but these tips should help in general:
- Ask for the check – Lingering over a meal is expected, and servers probably won’t bring you the check unless asked.
- Tipping – Tipping in Europe is not like tipping in the Americas. Round up the tab or add 10% if you feel there was particularly good service, but tipping is not expected in most establishments.
- Doggie bags – Portions are smaller, and taking your leftovers is a rarity.
- Bread – As odd as it may sound, bread comes with its own customs. Most countries encourage you to tear pieces of bread by hand, and only the piece large enough for one bite at a time. France serves bread directly on the table, and bread is rarely complimentary as it is often considered a course.
How to pay
Let’s talk money. The euro (€) is used in most EU countries (and a few non-EU countries - Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Vatican City), but it’s important to note that not all European countries use this seemingly ubiquitous currency.
The following European Union countries (as of August 2020) do not use the euro, though you may still be able to pay in euros: Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.
Non-EU countries do not have the euro as official currency, but many of these countries still accept the euro as payment, such as Iceland.
Lastly, there are some countries that require local currency and do not accept the euro:United Kingdom, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Ukraine.
Cash or Credit? Travel experts say that cash is preferred for most day-to-day interactions (and sometimes the only way to pay), but many vendors also accept cards, particularly for bigger purchases like hotel rooms and car rentals. Visa and Mastercard are accepted in most locations; Discover is a rarity.
Contact your bank or credit card company before traveling to let them know that you will be using your cards in another country. Compare foreign transaction fees if you have multiple credit/debit cards or consider applying for a new card.
Exchanging currency. Currency exchange kiosks are a common sight but also offer a less favorable exchange rate. Use local ATMs to get cash upon your arrival.
Plan your trip with ETIAS visa waiver
There are many beautiful, exciting, and interesting countries to explore in the Schengen area. Since the ETIAS visa waiver will allow for visa-free travel to all of them you have some daydreaming to do. Check out the ETIAS countries list and start planning.