There was a time when British travellers were able to enter any EU country with just a wave of their red EU passport. Ever since that fateful day December 31 2020 when the UK voted to leave the EU – Brexit – British travellers became third-country nationals hailing from a third country joining the list of 63 other countries.

The very next day British passports had to be stamped when entering an EU country. 

But that is about to change – and not for the better. From autumn 2024, the “Entry/Exit System” (EES) will come into force and British passport holders will have to be fingerprinted and have a facial biometric making passage through EU airports far more lengthy.

The EES was originally due in 2021, but there have been delays courtesy of IT problems. It is now scheduled for late 2024 and the aim is that it will be in full swing for a year in the run-up to the implementation of the Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias).

The Biometrics

Anyone who has entered the US will be familiar with this system at airports. It takes time and accounts for the often lengthy queues. 

However, unlike the US, the EES is planned for both entering and exiting the Schengen area.

For many, this is an alarming setback to an efficient passage through the airport. And there’s no firm idea of how this will play out when taking a car via a ferry or train say from Dover. This is a problem highlighted in Parliament by  Tim Reardon, head of EU exit for the Port of Dover. He  said:

“There is no such thing as an e-gate for a car, and there is no such thing as an e-gate process for people travelling as a group. They’re all one-at-a-time processes.

“There is no way of doing a biometric control without getting everyone out of the vehicle.

“That’s the one thing on our site which cannot happen, because you’re in the middle of live traffic. It would be equivalent to asking people to get out of their car at a motorway toll booth. It’s fundamentally unsafe and it can’t happen.”

Eurostar will have to substantially alter its current set-up to accommodate fingerprinting and facial biometrics. Gareth Williams, strategy director for Eurostar, which runs trains to France from London, said:

“We don’t currently see a practical solution. If we take the peak of August, up to 80 per cent of people will have to go through the system.

“We do have a very extreme space challenge. At a minimum we would require over 30 kiosks, and an area about the size of our entire check-in area at St Pancras.”

No doubt British travellers will feel the pain even more so when they see EU citizens breezing through.

What’s the point of an ETIAS?

ETIAS is akin to the  ESTA, the US’s visa waiver system for British travellers. ETIAS ensures that third-country nationals “meet entry requirements before travelling to the Schengen area,” says the EU.

Is there a cost?

There will be a cost of €7/£6 for all applicants aged 18 to 70. Applicants will be issued with a permit to cross a border – similar to a visa, but they say it is not a visa.

How long does an ETIAS stay valid?

Once you have the permit, you can continue using it for three years assuming your passport is valid.

NOTE: Nationals of third-nation countries like Britain are allowed to spend just 90 days in the Schengen area in any stretch of 180 days.


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