EU Border Control Agency Warns Against Unofficial ETIAS Websites

| February 12, 2024
EU Border Control Agency Warns Against Unofficial ETIAS Websites

Be cautious of scam websites when applying for electronic travel permits.

Frontex has warned travelers and travel professionals about the rise of unofficial websites for the European Travel Information Authorization System (ETIAS).

Frontex oversees the European Union’s (EU’s) external borders, sharing intelligence with member states and neighboring countries affected by migration and cross-border crime.

ETIAS is the new electronic travel permit for travelers who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Area.

The EU will gradually roll out ETIAS for all visa-exempt nationals in mid-2025.

Once operational, non-visa travelers must apply for travel authorization before visiting the EU’s Schengen Area.

The system will pre-screen travelers for security, immigration, and health risks, strengthening the EU’s border security.

Frontex has warned about the emergence of as many as 60 unofficial ETIAS websites now live online, reported Travel Weekly.

Intermediaries applying for ETIAS on travelers’ behalf

It is perfectly legal for companies or third-party providers to offer services to help travelers in the visa application process.

However, Frontex warns that even travel agents and other travel professionals must use the official ETIAS website:

“Once ETIAS is launched, the commercial intermediaries will have to use the official ETIAS website – the only official channel – to apply for the travel authorization on behalf of their clients,” the EU’s border agency said in a news release.

Frontex also cautioned travelers to discern to whom they share their personal and passport information.

“While some of [the ETIAS third-party] websites are run by genuine businesses, others may not be as trustworthy,” the border agency said.

Completing an ETIAS application will require travelers to disclose pertinent information such as name, birth date, passport number, and contact information.

It is also crucial to consider how much they are willing to pay in addition to the application fee.

An ETIAS application costs €7 and is valid for multiple short visits to the Schengen area for three years.

Any other fees paid on top of an ETIAS application cost go to third-party intermediaries.

Impact of ETIAS, EES on UK citizens

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) Chief Executive Mark Tanzer said that the EU’s ETIAS and Entry/Exit System (EES) “impact all UK citizens traveling to EU countries.”

ABTA is the largest trade association for UK travel agents, tour operators, and the wider travel industry.

The EES is the EU’s new automated biometric border check system, which is set to launch in October 2024.

Instead of manually stamping passports, the EES records non-EU citizens’ entry and exit into the Schengen Area via facial scans or fingerprints.

Tanzer acknowledged in a statement the “real risk of people falling foul of unofficial websites to get an ETIAS.”

He also emphasized ABTA members’ crucial role “in offering advice and guidance to their customers to help them understand the changes and what they need to do.”

In line with this, he invited all ABTA members to attend a webinar this week with experts from DG Home and Frontex.

DG Home is the European Commission’s department in charge of migration and home affairs, as well as the department rolling out the EES.

ETIAS may face further delays

The EU will launch the EES and ETIAS systems by October 2024 and mid-2025, respectively, pending any setbacks.

However, Europol and Frontex have warned that persistent issues could still hinder the implementation of a new system.

Europol is the EU’s law enforcement agency that supports all member states in preventing and combating serious crimes and terrorism.

Frontex expressed concerns about delays in essential tools for the ETIAS, which affect traveler screening and appeal processes.

Some EU countries haven’t approved appeal templates, adopted ETIAS laws, or set up appeal procedures, which could lead to compliance issues.

On the other hand, Europol faces challenges in project planning and resourcing due to delays in the development of the ETIAS Central System.

The agency is working on a new “watchlist” for potential terrorists and criminals.

It also seeks permission to use citizen data from non-EU states for evaluating ETIAS applications.

Additionally, Europol said it needs 38 more full-time positions to process travel authorization applications within 60 hours.

EES may cause long delays at the EU-UK borders

The United Kingdom (UK) Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee warned travelers of possible 14-hour delays at the UK-EU border.

The long waiting times are caused mainly by travelers arriving in cars or coaches at the border controls.

Passengers would have to exit their vehicles to register and undergo biometric checks before returning to their vehicles.

The Committee received evidence that the biometric border check could lead to delays and reduce Eurostar’s passenger numbers.

Eurostar is the international high-speed rail service connecting Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK.

High Speed 1 (HS1), owner and operator of the line and stations between London and the Channel Tunnel, said it needs more EES kiosks.

It added that it would be challenging to implement the EES at London’s St. Pancras station due to limited space restrictions.

Travel experts have called for a gradual EES implementation to avoid serious inconvenience to travelers.

They also stressed that allowing travelers to register biometric data online in advance can reduce border disruption.

The European Scrutiny Committee is reviewing the interoperability of the EES, the ETIAS, and the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) systems at the borders.