ETIAS & EES – What Do Tour Operators Need To Know?

In this article, prepared for ABTOT and BCH ABTOT Members, Matt Gatenby, Senior Partner at law firm Travlaw discusses the legal aspects of the forthcoming new rules affecting travel to the EU for non-member countries such as the UK.


As always, some brief context is useful here. Pre-“Brexit” travel between the UK and the EU (or, more accurately, the “Schengen Area” which is not quite the same – but let’s keep it simple and work on the basis that this is what we mean when we say “EU”!) was largely frictionless – the free movement of goods and people being key concept of the European Union. Post-Brexit UK travellers have experienced a slightly different scenario – no visa has been needed, but we have had the so-called “90/180 rule”, under which non-EU nationals have been restricted to not being able to spend more than 90 days in the EU in every 180 days unless they do have a visa. Given the UK also has the little-talked-about Common Travel Agreement with Ireland, in the round, this has meant that practically travel for UK travellers has been relatively easy in the time since Brexit.

What Is Changing

For some time now, however, there have been moves EU-side to change the rules on travel to the EU for those not a part of it. Whilst these rules are not specifically targeted at the UK, it is fair to say that given our geographical proximity the UK will be one of the countries most affected by the changes.

In essence “the” change here is the implementation of a new system for travel to the EU. It is not, explicitly a visa – more a visa-waiver programme, and is named the “European Travel Information and Authorization System”, or ETIAS for short.

What Is ETIAS? (And what is the EES?)

ETIAS is a wholly electronic system designed to monitor and track non-EU nationals when entering and exiting the EU. In practice ETIAS, which sits alongside normal passports, will require a security screening of each applicant to ascertain whether they can be permitted to visit any EU country. For those familiar with the now-longstanding systems like the US “ESTA” or Australian “ETA” you would not be entirely out of place to draw parallels in terms of how ETIAS will work.

Assuming a traveller is granted an ETIAS pass, the technology behind making it work on the day is the Entry and Exit System, or “EES”. Again, this is entirely electronic and meant to streamline the process of entry and exit. Those who find satisfaction in the stamping of passports will be disappointed to learn that, in theory, this will be a practice of the past. The EES is effectively similar to the biometric process that many of us will have already experience in that the data required to make it work will mean collection of all kinds of biometric data (facial scan, fingerprints and so on) as well as the usual full name, date of birth etc… This is not-negotiable – if a traveller refuses to provide this data ahead of entry, they will be denied access. In practice this means that the companies facilitating travel (airlines, ferries, trains) are likely to require the information to be provided in advance as part of their terms. In turn, that will mean a requirement for tour operators, and indeed travellers, to be aware of the requirements and having taken steps to be ready. The expectation of ‘go-live’ on EES is “Autumn 2024” but do not be surprised if that is pushed back.

How will travellers obtain an ETIAS?

In important point to keep flagging here is that ETIAS will be an entirely online process with no apparent recourse for anyone to apply in any other way. The expectation is that a typical application is expected to take around 10 minutes to complete. Most ETIAS applicants will be notified either instantly or within a few hours of their approved authorisation. Applicants who are denied an ETIAS will receive explanations of their denial. For example, an ETIAS application may be refused if the applicant poses a threat to public policy, security, or health, or if the applicant has provided false or incomplete information on the ETIAS application. A few more salient details, correct at the time of writing:

  • The fee for making the application is Euro €7.00. The fee, however, will not be payable for travellers under 18 or over 70 years of age.
  • Applicants must possess a current, valid passport with an expiration date no less than six months beyond the dates of travel. Also notable is that the 180/90 day rule still applies.
  • The ETIAS is valid for a period of three years from the date of approval.
  • ETIAS is a visa-waiver – if a traveller has a requirement for an actual visa (or instance will be staying for longer periods that most holidaymakers), that will still require obtaining!

Top 5 Points To Consider…

There is, without doubt, a lot to take in here for any business taking people to the EU once the ETIAS system kicks in. The information may change, so continued reference to the official website will be critical – Sadly it is easy to foresee a lot of unofficial websites and fraudsters looking to take advantage of this new development so care will be needed by both travellers and travel businesses to avoid that. All that aside, here are the top five, key points that are worth using as a tick box exercise for any travel business:

  1. Plan in advance. By reading this far you are already on that road! The current expectation for ETIAS going live is Spring 2025 – so no fixed date, yet. However, in the coming year or so (at the time of writing) you should get as much knowledge as possible and be ready. You will be asked questions by your customers!
  2. Be ready for questions. When you are asked questions, your genuine best approach is to give general information and show customers where they can get the information. That will be the official website (see above) and possibly any resource to assist UK travellers. Crucial here is that it is the travelling customer who is responsible for their own travel requirements.
  3. Update your own terms & conditions to reflect the new position. Again, you should make it clear that you can provide general assistance in terms of showing customers where to find information, but the responsibility to make sure they can travel is down to the customer.
  4. Tell customers to similarly plan early. Applying for an ETIAS later rather than sooner is courting disaster! As mentioned, the plan is that the ETIAS should take minutes – but relying on that, especially in the early days of implementation does risk issues. By telling customers to apply early you avoid issues in the long run. Whilst many customers may not be savvy with regards to technology, rightly or wrongly that is how ETIAS is being framed. There will be a mobile app which should make things easier – that will be way forward for many.
  5. Have a plan for when customers contact you in a panic. Even if 99.9% of customers get this right that means one in a thousand will still be ringing you from their port, station or airport asking what to do. Practical advice may be in short supply as the effect of not having an ETIAS is similar to not having a passport – a short term solution may be possible if the customer has simply not applied as they may be able to get one there and then. However, if there are complications this will make for an uncomfortable conversation around an issue not your fault – you can but be prepared. For package holidays there is an obligation on you to offer “reasonable assistance” but that is not going to stretch to either being able to perform miracles or to paying for alternative travel arrangements (or refunds) for something that isn’t your fault!


The reasons for the ETIAS system have been well documented – largely it is a security tool, the basic reasons for which most will not find controversial. It is a big change, however – and the UK travel industry has been understandably both watchful and wary.

As mentioned above, it is really important to remember that the primary duty to get the proverbial “ducks in a row” is on travellers. Tour operators, or any business associated with travel, should re-emphasise in Terms & Conditions that responsibility for all travel requirements such as visas, visa-waivers, health & travel advice (to name but a few) is on the traveller. For package holidays there is a requirement on the tour operator to provide general information to travellers regarding visa requirements, and that should simply be a referral to official sites such as the UK Government Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office

Will travel businesses see delays and problems at borders when this all goes live? Sadly, that is hard to be positive about and some delays, especially in the early days, seems inevitable. Reliance on the electronic also requires some forward thinking from the authorities – we have seen what happens when the border control computer systems suffer difficulty. The truth is that most people will get through without any issue – and remember the system is designed to make the process efficient. However, even with a 99.9% success rating that means one in a thousand UK travellers will run into difficulty, and that might mean access to the EU is refused. Tour operators should give thought to what they will need to do if, for instance, one person from a coach of 60 is unable to make a crossing in the first instance. Forewarned is, as is said, forearmed!

To discuss this or any other related issues please feel free to contact any of the Travlaw team at or 01132 580033.