Starting in 2021, Americans and travelers from other visa-free countries will have to take an extra step when visiting more than two dozen countries in Europe.
The European Union announced last year that before travel, visitors from all visa-free countries, including the United States, will need to complete an online application and pay a small fee using the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) designed “to strengthen security checks on those persons who travel visa-free to the EU,” according to a fact sheet from the European Commission. It applies to people traveling to Europe’s Schengen Zone, an area comprising 26 countries, including France, Germany and Spain, but not Britain.
U.S. citizens with a valid U.S. passport can visit Schengen countries and stay for up to 90 days without a visa, according to the State Department.
This week, news outlets including CNN, Esquire and Travel & Leisure initially called the process starting in 2021 a visa, but government authorities said it is not one. With ETIAS, travelers will need documentation, such as a passport, and will be asked to complete an application online and pay a $7 fee; in an expected 95 percent of cases, approval will be granted in minutes, the fact sheet said.
Officials with the European Commission and the U.S. State Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely on the process, confirmed that ETIAS is simply a travel authorization for visa-free visitors, similar to the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to screen people in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
The reports appeared to lead to confusion online.
The E.U. delegation to the United States tried to clear it up.
A spokesman for the commission said the E.U. decided to establish the ETIAS in summer 2018.
In 2016, the European Commission proposed ETIAS, “an automated IT system created to identify any security or irregular migratory risks posed by visa-exempt visitors travelling to the Schengen area, while at the same time facilitate border crossings for the vast majority of travelers who do not pose such risks,” according to the fact sheet, which the commission released in July.
The ETIAS authorisation is not a visa. Nationals of visa liberalisation countries will continue to travel the EU without a visa but will simply be required to obtain a travel authorisation via ETIAS prior to their travel. ETIAS will be a simple, fast and visitor-friendly system, which will, in more than 95% of cases, result in a positive answer within a few minutes.
An ETIAS travel authorisation does not reintroduce visa-like obligations. There is no need to go to a consulate to make an application, no biometric data is collected and significantly less information is gathered than during a visa application procedure. Whereas, as a general rule, a Schengen visa procedure can take up to 15 days, and can in some cases be extended up to 30 or 60 days, the online ETIAS application only takes a few minutes to fill in. The validity will be for a period of three years, significantly longer than the validity of a Schengen visa. An ETIAS authorisation will be valid for an unlimited number of entries.
The ETIAS travel authorisation will be a necessary and small procedural step for all visa-exempt travellers which will allow them to avoid bureaucracy and delays when presenting themselves at the borders. ETIAS will fully respect this visa-free status; facilitate the crossing of the Schengen external border; and allow visa free visitors to fully enjoy their status.
It is not entirely certain why ETIAS has been characterized as a visa program, but the travel agency ETIASVisa.com stated on its website that “US citizens traveling to Europe will shortly need to apply for an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) visa which is the new travel visa to visit Europe that will come into effect from 2021. Similar to other countries and regions in the world Europe has recently decided to improve their security level to avoid any further problems with illegal migration and terrorism. This means that from 2021, all Americans traveling to a European Schengen-zone country will be in need of an ETIAS.”
At least one news outlet linked to information from ETIASVisa.com while citing the European Union.
ETIASVisa.com states that it is a travel agency and is “not affiliated with any European Government.”
Travelers will not need to use a travel agency to apply but can do it themselves online.