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Will You Need a Visa to visit Europe?

This question is in the news right now. The fact is, beginning in 2021, preparation for European travel is going to get a bit more complicated for Americans. U.S. citizens will be required to undergo a pre-screening and registration process called the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) before entering most European countries, in the so-called Schengen-zone of twenty-six nations. ETIAS was first proposed by the European Commission in 2016 and was approved by the European Parliament in 2018.

That area of Europe includes Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The nations of the zone have officially abolished passport and other border control at their mutual borders. The area essentially functions as a single jurisdiction for international travel purposes. Currently, Americans are allowed to travel visa-free to these countries for up to 90 days. 

Coming in 2021, each traveler will have to apply online, filling out personal biometric questions (name, date of birth, etc) and passport information and provide information about health, criminal record, and previous European immigration history. This information will be checked across multiple databases. If the application is not flagged for closer review, a decision will be reached by the system, supposedly “within minutes.” If an application is denied, the applicant will receive an explanation.

To apply the visitor must have a valid passport, an email account, and a credit or debit card. ETIAS authorization screening is expected to cost 7 euros for individuals over the age of 18, but will be free for those under 18. The travel authorization will be valid for three years, allowing multiple entries to all Schengen-zone countries. Note that travelers will still only be able to stay up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

The U.S. Department of State and the Delegation of the European Union indicate that this is not visa, technically speaking. The process is considered “pre-travel screening” to authorize visa-free access.

You can learn more at Sara Moniuszko’s story for USAToday.com.