What To Know About The New ‘Visa’ Process For Americans Traveling To Europe

Americans long used to flying off to Europe with just a ticket and a valid passport can expect to face a slight hurdle in 2021, when several European countries are scheduled to enact a new travel security system.

Simply put, it means doing a little more paperwork and paying a small fee before your trip to France ― or any of more than two dozen other countries.

The forthcoming European Travel Information and Authorisation System will charge €7 (about $8) for would-be visitors from “visa-free” countries to complete the required application online. Approval will be valid for three years.

The United States is one of more than 60 countries whose nationals currently do not need a visa to go to the European Union. Soon, though, people from all of those countries will need to apply through ETIAS if they want to go to the Schengen Area.

The Schengen Area is named after the Schengen Agreement, a 1985 treaty that made it easy for people from certain nations to travel between them for short-term stays. The area comprises 26 countries, including many, but not all, of the countries in the European Union. A few, such as Iceland, are part of the Schengen Area but not part of the EU.

Here’s the full list: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Notably, Britain is absent. Come 2021, Americans may gaze upon the Crown Jewels without ETIAS approval, but not the Acropolis.

The application is estimated to take no longer than 10 minutes to complete, and the European Commission expects around 95 percent of applicants to be approved within minutes.

So why is all of this happening? It’s just a new security measure. The system will conduct “pre-travel screening for security and migration risks of travellers benefiting from visa-free access to the Schengen area,” two European Commission leaders said in a statement last year about the proposed change. The whole thing was approved in 2018.

There has been some confusion online, however, after a few news outlets referred to ETIAS as a “visa.”

To be clear: The European Commission states unequivocally in a fact sheet on its website that “the ETIAS authorisation is not a visa” (emphasis theirs). Officials also confirmed to The Washington Post that Americans will not need to apply for visas to go to Europe.

At least one party purporting to be a travel agency has set up a misleading website ― ETIASVisa.com ― that refers to the new process as a “visa” application, which, again, it is not.

The European Commission says ETIAS will not require any traveler to go to a consulate or submit biometric data, and that it will gather “significantly less information” than during a standard visa application procedure.

ETIAS is similar to an existing U.S. system called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which requires people from any of 38 other countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, to seek approval prior to arrival in the U.S. and to pay a $14 fee.

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