For many international investors, all it took to enter Europe was a ticket, a valid travel document (Passport) , and a good plan. Beginning in late 2022 that will change.
By the end of 2022, individuals from certain countries will need to successfully apply for a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) visa waiver in order to enter the Schengen area. But what is ETIAS visa waiver? And how will ETIAS affect Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programs and Residence by Investment (RBI) Programs (“Golden Visas”)—particularly those that have historically offered visa-free access to the Schengen area? Read on for the answer to this question, and for more information about the potential impact of ETIAS on investor citizenship schemes and investor residence schemes (golden visas).
What is ETIAS Visa Waiver and who will need it to visit Europe?
The European Travel Information and Authorization System, or “ETIAS” is a form of security clearance travelers from certain countries must obtain prior to arriving in the Schengen area.
A kind of electronic authorization launching by the end of 2022, would-be travelers to the Schengen area will be able to apply for the ETIAS online, through a quick and easy process requiring no paperwork or in-person appointments.
Anyone who successfully applies for the ETIAS visa waiver will be able to use it to travel to the Schengen area in lieu of a visa for several years. After holding a valid ETIAS for a period of 3 years, applicants will have to re-apply for the authorization.
The goal of ETIAS is to prevent potential security breaches of the Schengen area caused by visa-free travelers to the bloc, who are currently not subject to any background checks or required to pass a security clearance in order to enter.
Summary: Who will be affected by ETIAS?
- European RBI Programs: If you purchased a Golden Visa (residency) from a country in the EU/Schengen area, and you have citizenship from a country that has visa-free access to the Schengen area, you will be affected. You will likely need an ETIAS in order to enter your country of residency, and even if you don’t, you will almost certainly need an ETIAS in order to travel around the rest of the Schengen area.
- Non-EU, non-Schengen CIB Programs: If you purchased citizenship from a country outside of the EU/Schengen area that has visa-free access to the Schengen area, you will be affected (i.e. you will need an ETIAS in order to enter the Schengen area).
Summary: Who will NOT be affected by ETIAS?
- European CIP Programs: Anyone who purchased citizenship through a CIB program from a Schengen or EU country automatically has access to the entire EU/Schengen area and is therefore not affected (i.e. does not need ETIAS for investor citizenship in the EU, or to travel throughout the Schengen area).
- CIB Programs without visa-free Schengen access: If you purchased citizenship from a country that never had visa-free access to the Schengen area to begin with (such as Turkey), you will not be affected by ETIAS (i.e. you will not need to receive one to enter the Schengen area).
Who will need ETIAS to travel to Europe?
- Citizens from countries who previously had visa-free access to the Schengen area are those who will need ETIAS to travel to Europe.
- If you are a citizen of United States, Australia, Singapore, or any of the over 50 previously visa-exempt countries, you will need an ETIAS.
Who will NOT need ETIAS to travel to Europe?
- Citizens of EU states and the Schengen area are among those who will not need ETIAS to travel to Europe.
- ETIAS exclusively affects individuals who previously didn’t need a visa in order to travel to the Schengen area. This means that if you are from one of the 100+ countries that does not have visa-free access to the Schengen area, you will not need an ETIAS in order to travel to Europe.
- In sum, if you always needed a visa to enter the Schengen area, you can continue to apply for Schengen visas to travel to the Schengen area, and ignore the ETIAS requirement, which does not apply to you since ETIAS is only an option for visa-exempt countries.
European RBI Programs
- Many states around the world offer investors the opportunity to purchase “Golden Visas” through Residency by Investment Programs (RBIs), which offer applicants residency in exchange for a financial investment in the country.
- Over 20 countries in Europe offer Golden Visas.
- The vast majority of the European states offering RBI’s are members of the EU, the Schengen area, or both. An investor who purchases a Golden Visa through one of these European states will therefore achieve residency from an EU state, Schengen state, or an EU/Schengen state.
- The following European countries have RBI Programs. With the exception of the UK, all of them are either EU or Schengen Member States. Countries in bold black are Schengen states.
European CIP Programs
- A smaller number of states offer investors the ability to “purchase” citizenship via their Citizenship Investment Programs (CIPs or CBIs).
- The following European countries offer CIP programs; all three countries are EU states. Countries in bold black are Schengen Member States.
- Cyprus (In November 2020, Cyprus discontinued its CIP pending a review.)
- Because Bulgaria and Cyprus are EU states, Bulgarian and Cypriot citizens have visa free access to the Schengen area.
- Malta is a Schengen state; Maltese citizens therefore have universal access to the Schengen area.
- Therefore, when it comes to ETIAS and Malta (and ETIAS and the above EU states) the travel authorization program does not apply. This is because citizens of those states are citizens of the EU/Schengen area, and they therefore have universal access to all the other EU/Schengen states.
- Therefore, if you received Maltese citizenship through the country’s CIP program, you don’t need to worry about ETIAS and Malta, because ETIAS will not affect you.
RBIs affected by ETIAS
- The ETIAS visa waiver program will affect target Golden Visa programs by subjecting non-citizen residents from some countries to an extra level of security, which they must obvious, either to travel to their European country of residence or travel around the Schengen area.
- Prior to ETIAS, citizens from countries with visa free access to the Schengen area who obtained residency from a Schengen/EU state could visit their country of residence and travel throughout the Schengen area without a visa. For example, a US citizen with residency in Malta would not need a visa to enter the country. Once ETIAS becomes operational, that same US citizen would likely need an ETIAS in order to travel to Malta and visit other countries in the Schengen area.
- In contrast, a citizen of a country that does not currently have visa free travel to Malta (for example, a Jordanian citizen), will not be required to apply for an ETIAS in order to come to his country of residency (Malta).
- Once ETIAS is activated, individuals with a criminal history—who nevertheless received a European Golden Visa by passing an individual country’s (perhaps inadequate) security check—would likely be caught up by the ETIAS system, which runs rigorous background checks on all ETIAS applicants.
- Individuals who fail an ETIAS background check will not be able to buy their way out of their situation, meaning they face a likely ban on entering the Schengen area.
- Summary: ETIAS will only affect you if you purchased a European Golden Visa and you have citizenship from a country that does not offer visa-free access to the Schengen area. Because you do not have citizenship in the EU/Schengen country you purchased a visa through, you will likely have to apply for an ETIAS in order to enter your country of (purchased) residence and travel to other Schengen states. Ultimately, having residency in an EU/Schengen country is not the same thing as citizenship, and does not (unlike citizenship) provide you with visa free access to the Schengen area. However, if you have zero criminal history/security issues, you should be able to quickly and easily obtain an ETIAS.
ETIAS for CIPs
- The following non-EU/non-Schengen countries have CIP programs:
- With the exception of Turkey, citizens of the above countries enjoy visa-free access to the Schengen area. This means that investors who purchased citizenship from one of the above CIP programs also have visa-free access to the Schengen area.
- Visa-free travel to the Schengen area is one of the main selling points of the above CIP programs. In fact, many applicants who purchase citizenship through one of these CIP programs do so mainly because they seek visa-free access to the Schengen area.
- As citizens of countries that don’t have visa-free access to the Schengen area, many of these applicants originally had to go through expensive, time consuming, and ultimately unsuccessful visa-application processes in order to enter the Schengen area. Once they, purchased citizenship from one of the above countries, the process of travelling to the Schengen area became instantaneous via-visa-free entry.
Which Citizenship by Investment Programs will be subject to ETIAS?
- CBI programs from countries that currently offer visa-free travel to the Schengen area will be directly affected by ETIAS. They include the following CBI programs.
- The CBI programs of the above states will be affected by ETIAS because they currently offer visa free access to the Schengen area.
- Once ETIAS is launched, citizens from the above countries will have to apply for an ETIAS visa in order to enter any of the 26 Schengen Member States.
- Summary: while ETIAS will universally affect the CIB programs of the above countries, it will only be a barrier to travel for citizens who have criminal or security issues that would prevent them from being approved for an ETIAS. If you do not have a criminal background or previous security issues, you will likely be approved for ETIAS immediately, and have in effect visa-free travel to the Schengen area for several years going forward.
What Countries do CIB programs nationals need an ETIAS for?
- ETIAS visa waiver requirements will affect CBI programs from countries that currently offer visa-free travel to the Schengen who are trying to enter the Schengen area, a group of the following 26 states: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.
Which Citizenship by Investment programs will NOT be subject to ETIAS?
- Because citizens of the following countries do not currently have visa-free access to the Schengen area, those who seek to travel to any of its 26 Member States will not need to apply for ETIAS. Instead, they must apply for a Schengen visa.
- Therefore, the following countries’ CIP programs will not be affected by ETIAS because they do not have visa-free access to the Schengen area.
- The United Kingdom (tbd with Brexit).
Please note, because the ETIAS system has yet to be launched, certain aspects of the program remain unclear, (such the number of years ETIAS will be valid for, and whether residents of EU/Schengen states who are citizens of countries with visa-free access to the Schengen area will need ETIAS to enter their country of residence). Until ETIAS gets closer to its launch date, it remains unclear what affect ETIAS for CIPs will have.
Application Process for ETIAS
- The process is simple in concept but is backed by a complex digital infrastructure.
- The application process for ETIAS usually takes 10 minutes or less.
- Unlike the Schengen visa application process, ETIAS applicants do not need to apply in person at an embassy or consulate. Instead, ETIAS applicants apply online, either through the official ETIAS website or via the ETIAS app, which will eventually be available for download.
- The online ETIAS application requires applicants to submit their basic biographical information, passport information, and criminal background history.
- The information you provide about yourself will be run through several EU security databases. If you turn up in one of them, your application will be flagged, and depending on the nature of your offense, you could be denied an ETIAS, and therefore denied access to the Schengen area.
- If, however, you pass the background check (as the majority of applicants do), you will receive your ETIAS and permission to enter the Schengen area.
ETIAS Visa Waiver Requirements
How will the ETIAS system work? In order to be approved for an ETIAS, applicants must provide the following ETIAS visa waiver requirements:
- Biographical information
- Criminal history
- Digital photo
- Previous Schengen visa history
- Valid passport /travel document
- Employment/school information
- €7 EUR registration fee
The new European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is a future condition for citizens of visa-exempt countries to enter the Schengen Area. This system will be handled by the European Union and its Member States and will replace individual country visas in 2022.
The Schengen Visa is a complicated process, so if you are qualified for the waiver, it is recommended to apply for that instead. A Schengen visa requires significantly more paperwork, and in certain cases may even require an in-person interview.
As you can see, traveling to Europe with ETIAS for citizens of CBI programs will continue to be easy—even with the new authorization
There are a number of countries in Europe that offer an investor visa to non-EU/EFTA nationals. Choosing the Residency or Citizenship Program that best suits your needs can be difficult, especially when there are so many options available to you. We, therefore, encourage you to contact us before deciding on a Program and to help you make the right choice.
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For the Citizenship by Investment Programs comparison table, please click here.
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