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.K. 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.”