Everything you need to know about ETIAS and Europe’s city taxes

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The hour is finally approaching. From 2024, it will no longer be free to travel to Europe.

The ETIAS visa waiver program will allow entry into EU countries from $7.70. As the name suggests, it isn’t a visa – it’s a system for visitors from countries who don’t require visas to enter Europe, to preregister their visits. Those who currently need visas to enter will still need them,

While many US citizens appear shocked by the move, they might be surprised that the ETIAS system is modeled on the ESTA visa waiver program, which was introduced in 2009 by the United States. And, of course, citizens of many countries need “real” visas to EU countries – which is not only a costly process, but a time-consuming one, too.

ETIAS will join the myriad accommodation and “tourist taxes” that are already charged around Europe. Here’s what to know about them.

When will ETIAS come into force?

Originally slated to start in May 2023, ETIAS has been pushed back several times – but now appears to be on track to launch in 2024.

Who needs ETIAS authorization?

Citizens of the 60 or so non-EU countries who don’t currently need a visa to the EU – such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore and the UAE. EU residents are exempt, whatever their nationality.

Those who currently need a visa to enter the EU, on the other hand, will still need a visa.

How will it work?

ETIAS will be run along similar lines to the United States’ ESTA program. Travelers must request permission to enter the EU before their travel through a simple online process.

It’ll cost 7 euros ($7.70) and will cover multiple entries for three years, or until your passport expires – whichever comes first. That’s cheaper than an ESTA, which costs $21 for two years.

Applications should be processed in “minutes” with the vast majority completed in 96 hours, the EU predicts. “Some applicants may be asked to provide additional information or documentation or to participate in an interview with national authorities, which may take up to additional 30 days,” they warn, however. It suggests not booking flights or accommodation until you have confirmation.

For more details, check out the official ETIAS website here – going through third parties may incur extra charges.

What other tourist taxes are there in Europe?

Most cities in continental Europe now charge a “tourist tax” for overnight visitors – usually a few euros added to your bill at the end of your stay, though sometimes it must be paid in cash. If you’re staying in an Airbnb, hosts will often collect this from you on arrival.

The taxes usually go towards buffering public services which are affected by visitors, such as trash collection and street cleaning. Amsterdam, for example, recently allocated an extra 7 million euros to its public transport network. They’re also usually only charged for a set period, usually of up to a week. That way, you’re rewarded if you stay longer.

The notable exception is the UK – however, this is changing. Manchester became the first UK city to introduce a £1 ($1.30) tax on overnight stays in March 2023. Edinburgh looks set to follow, and Wales is looking to introduce a “visitor levy” for overnight stays.

What if I don’t stay the night?

Then you’ll probably be paying an overnight tax wherever you do stay, since most European countries charge these taxes, though they tend to be cheaper in less popular municipalities. Don’t forget that tourism adds a heavy burden to destinations, often in countries and areas that are significantly poorer than those of the tourists themselves.

What about cruise passengers?

Good question. Cruises are notoriously bad for the environment, as well as for cities who are engulfed by passengers on port days – passengers who spend precious little money in the destination as they’re already catered for onboard.

Some cities have reacted by implementing arrival taxes on cruise passengers. If your ship docks at Barcelona for 12 hours or more you’ll pay 4.75 euros (3 euros regional fee and 1.75 euros city surcharge). Amsterdam visitors arriving on a cruise pay 8 euros. It’s only valid for boats that dock for the day – if your cruise starts or ends in Amsterdam, or if you’re staying overnight in the city, you’re exempt.

It’s not just cruise ships that charge landing taxes for arriving by sea, however. Italy has the “contributo di sbarco” or disembarkation contribution that non-resident passengers must pay when arriving on islands, whether by public ferry or private boat. The price is set by local authorities.

Are some cities more expensive than others?

Yes – essentially, the more popular the place, the more you’ll pay. Stay in Barcelona, for example, and as well as the regular Catalonia tourist tax, you’ll be in line for a “city surcharge” imposed on stays in the region’s capital.

Amsterdam charges 7% of the hotel rate plus 3 euros per person per night.

In Vienna, it’s 3.2% of the total room rate, excluding breakfast and sales tax, and then lopping off 11% of the remainder. It works out as about 2.5%.

In Portugal, three municipalities on the tourist-filled Algarve coastline charge tourist tax: Faro, Vila Real de Santo António and Olhão, which introduced a fee (1 euro in the winter, 2 euros otherwise) in 2023.

Crucially, the posher your accommodation, the more you pay. In Rome, for example, staying in a three star hotel incurs a 4 euro nightly tax, but a four star hotel is 6 euros and five stars is 7 euros.

In Venice, the tax goes from 1 euro per person per night in a one star hotel, to 5 euros in a five star. The tax is only payable for the first five nights, in a bid to get people to stay longer.

And in Paris, it ranges from just 0.20 euros for a one star property to 5 euros per person per night in a swanky “palais” hotel.

In France overall, the charges vary by both municipality and class of accommodation – ranging from 0.20 euros to 4.20 outside Paris.

While in Greece, it’s done solely by the type of accommodation, with charges ranging from 0.50 euros to 4 euros per room per night.

How about that Venice entry fee?

The much mooted “contributo di accesso” or entrance fee to Venice – which has been repeatedly postponed since first being proposed for 2019 – is now slated for 2024. Charges have been announced as starting at 3 euros on a quiet day to 10 euros at peak times.

However, this charge is only for day-trippers, who are thought to form 90% of the visitor numbers, add little to the local economy but cause plenty of problems in the city. If you’re staying overnight, you’ll already have paid the overnight “city tax” and will be exempt.

Does only Europe do this?

No. Many US states charge “accommodation taxes,” for starters – plus many US hotels add on a “resort fee” too, which doesn’t even go to the community. The taxes are also standard in the Caribbean, where they’re commonly added to hotel fees. There’s an entrance tax on tourists arriving in New Zealand, and a departure tax for vacationers departing from Japan.

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