Owners of events that take place outside the U.S. have likely been hearing the buzz about new documentation requirements that will take hold in 2021. The question, of course, is how and whether it will affect U.S. athletes, including minors, and their parents, as well as those who are traveling with the team or for the event.
The crux of the issue is the Schengen Agreement, a treaty creating Europe's Schengen Area, which encompasses 26 European countries, where internal border checks have largely been abolished for short-term tourism, a business trip, or transit to a non-Schengen destination. And travel to those countries, under the new restriction, will require a special travel pass (more on this in a minute).
Currently, there are 22 European countries that form part of the Schengen Area; they are Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic and Malta. Non-EU member states that also come under the restriction are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. There are also a few micro-states that are a de facto part of Schengen area: Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City.
Side note: That’s a lot of destinations, and with the increasing preponderance of international travel, planners need to be aware of the regulations and how they apply. (The U. S. State Department has an excellent list of resources.)
According to the State Department, until the rules take effect in 2021, a U.S. citizen with a valid U.S. passport who is traveling to the Schengen countries for tourism or business will not need any additional documentation, as long as he/she plans to spend 90 days or less in these countries.
However, once the 2021 deadline passes and the new restrictions go into place, an extra step will be necessary. At that point, the European Union will require U.S. visitors to have a pre-approved, visa-like travel pass issued by the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). Using this pass (in addition to their passport and any other documentation necessary to travel internationally), athletes, team personnel, parents, spectators and others should be able to enter the Schengen area, providing their stay does not exceed 90 days within a six-month period.
The ETIAS will cost about $7.90 and will have to be requested at least four days before the journey is to begin. Applications will be made available online.
Michael Wildes, managing partner at Wildes & Weinberg, immigration law specialists in New York, New York (also the mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, and a frequent contributor to Sports Destination Management), noted, “The ETIAS system operates in much the same way as the ESTA system operates in the United States. ESTA is a largely unsupervised exercise in online form-filling. It is not a visa application. The purpose of these systems is to gather information about travelers before they arrive. Therefore, ETIAS should not significantly impact travel into Europe from the 61 stated countries, including the United States. However, if someone who fills out an ETIAS form is, indeed, inadmissible to the destination country in the EU on account of a criminal ground for example, or something else, they will presumably be stopped at the border.”
A few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are as follows, many of which are found on the State Department’s website.
Why is the Schengen Agreement suddenly an issue? The new rule taking place in 2021 will serve as an additional security measure for those countries.The EU Commission created the ETIAS authorization system to strengthen the external borders of the European continent and lower the risk of threats. The American ESTA and Canadian eTA (electronic travel authorization are similar travel authorization systems.
I am a U.S. citizen. What do I need to travel to the Schengen Zone before 2021?
- A U.S. passport valid for at least 90 days beyond your intended date of departure to and from the Schengen area. Note: Border officials often assume you will stay the maximum 90 days, even if this is not your intention, so be prepared.
- Sufficient passport validity for each country you will visit (click on the link to look it up).
- Proof of justifiable purpose of travel.
- Proof of sufficient financial resources for the visit.
- Compliance with other entry requirements for each country you will visit or transit.
What about after 2021? Once those new rules are in place, you’ll still need all the above documentation – plus electronic documentation issued by the ETIAS. Note that this will not not take the place of, nor should it be considered a substitute for, a U.S. passport; rather, it complements it and will be necessary to travel in the Schengen area.
Do infants and children need ETIAS? Yes, every traveler, even infants and youth, will need to present a travel authorization upon their arrival in the Schengen area in order to be permitted to enter. However, people under the age of 18 are exempt from paying the fee for the ETIAS.
When traveling internationally with youth at any time, make sure the following steps are followed:
- Check the expiration date on any passport carefully before traveling to Europe – note that children’s passports are valid for only five years, not the 10 years of those issued to U.S. citizens aged 16 and older
- Carry your passport when traveling into, out of or between countries, and make sure all children’s passports are carried by a responsible adult who is accompanying them.
Are there any special precautions I should observe with events taking place in the Schengen zone prior to 2021?
- Make sure your passport will have sufficient validity or renew it before traveling.
- Be sure immigration officials stamp your passport upon entering the Schengen area and again when you exit.
- Carry your passport with you when traveling to other countries in the Schengen area (and everywhere) in case documentation is necessary
Will the ETIAS need to be renewed? Yes, it will need to be renewed every three years.
What kind of information will be required to apply for an ETIAS online? According to some travel agency sites, the following information is known about the ETIAS:
- The online ETIAS Europe application form will be quick and straightforward to complete. In most cases, the whole process won’t take more than ten minutes.
- ETIAS requirements for Europe: To complete the ETIAS application process there are some basic requirements. The applicant needs to have a valid passport, a credit or debit card to pay the ETIAS fee, and an e-mail address to receive the electronic ETIAS.
- Applicants are asked some basic questions which include details about the trip, their health history and whether they have a criminal record. Their details are screened and cross-checked using several security databases including Interpol and Europol.
Without the ETIAS on or after 2021, will travel be problematic, even for U.S. citizens who travel internationally often? Unfortunately, yes. If your passport and documentation do not meet the Schengen requirements, you may be:
- Refused boarding by the airline at your point of origin or while transferring planes.
- Denied entry when you arrive in the Schengen area, regardless of how long you will stay.
An immigration official will determine if you qualify for entry when you first cross any external border of the Schengen area and present your passport. The officer may bar your entry if you do not qualify.
Is the application available now? The application is not yet available. Many travel agency sites have an e-mail list and will make information available to those who are interested.
What else do I need? I want to make sure I’m covered, and that my athletes are too. The good news is we still have about two years until the measure goes into effect. However, that hasn’t stopped many companies and websites in the industry from springing up, with the claim of simplifying the process.
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) made the following statement:
"It is important to note that while several websites such as Etiasvisa.com and Schengenvisainfo.com have been quoted as information sources by numerous news outlets, these are not affiliated with the European Commission and may contain erroneous information. For more information and frequently asked questions, we recommend the following resources as they are the official sources of information directly from the European Commission:
European Commission - A European Travel Information and Authorization System - Questions & Answers
European Commission - European Travel Information and Authorization System – Fact Sheet
List of countries in the Schengen area"
Additionally, Michael Wildes notes, becoming informed about the new restrictions, and filling out the appropriate forms well in advance of travel, is the best practice:
“Event planners beware! The best step that event owners could take would be to have anyone traveling to the EU Schengen area fill out a paper form ahead of time, to determine whether there are any admissibility issues, before filing the ETIAS application online. The worst-case scenario would be to wait until the last second to file for ETIAS and to discover that a certain athlete has admissibility issues prior to the date of departure. Of course, if there are admissibility issues, an immigration attorney licensed in the destination country should be consulted.”