Will United States citizens need a visa to travel to Europe?

UPDATE! Despite earlier reports, the E.U. won’t require Americans to obtain a visa before traveling to Europe.

Starting in 2021, Americans traveling to Europe will have to complete an online application and pay a small fee through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), a pre-screening program that aims to protect European Union (EU) borders.

Despite news reports from last week that mistakenly said all Americans going to Europe after 2021 will need to register first for a visa, Americans and other non-EU travelers can still travel to Europe without a visa for up to 90 days as long as they complete their form in the ETIAS before travel.

ETIAS costs €7 and approves travelers online for visits to Europe within minutes, according to a fact sheet issued by the European Commission in July that called the ETIAS “a necessary and small procedural step for all visa-exempt travelers” that would help them “avoid bureaucracy and delays when presenting themselves at the border.”

The ETIAS will be required for any of the territories in the Schengen area of Europe — 26 countries that are part of the E.U., not including the U.S. or Ireland. It is valid for three years, or shorter if a passport expires.

“An ETIAS travel authorization 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.”

According to that fact sheet, ETIAS will approve more than 95 percent of cases within a few minutes and can be done online by the traveler. The form should not take more than 10 minutes to complete and doesn’t require anything other than a passport, or equivalent document.

If there is a problem obtaining an ETIAS, then travelers will have to go through “manual handling of the application” by a “Central Unit in the European Border and Coast Guard Agency or by a Member State team.”

The U.S. requires a similar procedure to be completed as part of its Visa Waiver Program. The U.S. version, called Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA, is required for anyone boarding a plane or vessel bound for the U.S. According to Homeland Security, “In most instances, ESTA applicants will receive real-time notification on the disposition of their application to travel to the United States.”

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US citizens traveling to Europe without a visa will be a thing of the past come 2021.

The European Union announced on Friday that American travelers will need a new type of visa — a European Travel Information and Authorization System or ETIAS — to visit the European Schengen Area.

The Schengen Area is a zone of 26 European countries that do not have internal borders and allow people to move between them freely, including countries like Spain, France, Greece, Germany, Italy and Poland. Currently, US citizens can travel to Europe for up to 90 days without a visa.

To apply for the ETIAS, US citizens will need a valid passport, an email account and a credit or debit card, the EU said. Minors, the website said, will still only need their normal passports to travel after the visas go into effect. The Union said that the ETIAS visa is valid for three years and allows Americans to enter the Schengen Area as many times as necessary. On the ETIAS website, the European Union said it “has recently decided to improve their security level to avoid any further problems with illegal migration and terrorism.”

The United States has been in a dispute with the EU’s European Parliament and European Commission over visas for Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Romania and Cyprus. Travelers in those five countries are the only EU nations that the US requires to apply for a visa. In 2016, the European Commission first released a report calling for the U.S. to grant the same visa-free status to those five countries as the other 23 EU nations in exchange for U.S. citizens maintaining the same visa-free status in the Schengen Area. EU rules require equal treatment for all member states.
The report also indicated, however, that the commission wanted to wait until after President Trump was in office to “push for full visa reciprocity.”

In June 2018, the Parliament voted in favor of the Commission imposing visas on US citizens.

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