Americans will NOT need a visa for EU travel in 2021 and other ETIAS FAQs

On March 7, Condé Nast Travel + Leisure rocked the travel world with an online article stating that starting in 2021, Americans would need to obtain a visa to visit countries in the European Union. The article linked to a very official looking website with information about ETIAS, the European Travel Information and Authorization System. What the article’s author didn’t seem to realize is that they linked to a travel agency that makes money from visa applications, and that ETIAS is for a visa waiver program for Americans, NOT a visa. Here is more (and accurate) information about what ETIAS is and what changes will happen for American travelers in 2021.

What is ETIAS?

ETIAS stands for the European Union (EU) Travel Information and Authorization System and is based on a similar visa waiver system used by the United States called the ESTA. The purpose of the system is to gather information on travelers who currently are traveling visa-free to the European Union (like Americans) and ensure individuals posing security concerns are identified before they are permitted travel to Schengen countries. The main goal for the EU is to improve the external and internal security of EU citizens by having a centralised system to issue travel authorisations to EU visitors and monitor their travels within the Schengen zone.

What is the Schengen Zone?

The Schengen Zone (or Area) signifies a zone where 26 European countries have abolished their internal borders for the free and unrestricted movement of people, in harmony with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality by strengthening the common judicial system and police cooperation. The 26 Schengen countries are: 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.

What is the difference between the European Union and the Schengen Zone?

In short, they are two different entities, although many countries are included in both. The EU is a political and economic union, whereas the Schengen Zone allows for the free movement of people between the participating countries.

What do Americans need to travel to the EU right now?

From now until the formal implementation of the ETIAS system (which is only projected for 2021), American travelers only need a valid passport for travel to the European Union. Your passport should also have an expiration date at least 90 days beyond your date of return to the United States.

What is the difference between a Schengen visa and the ETIAS travel authorization?

There are several countries whose citizens do require a visa to visit the Schengen Area. After the ETIAS system is implemented, citizens of these countries will still need to apply for a visa. The United States is one of several visa-waiver countries, meaning American citizens do not need a visa to visit the Schengen Area. Even after ETIAS is implemented, they will still not need one. The difference is that American citizens will need to register through ETIAS and apply for the visa waiver instead of having that visa requirement waived automatically.

Why was the ETIAS system implemented?

Some people believe the ETIAS visa waiver requirement was implemented for political reasons, as retaliation against the US government for not allowing European citizens to visit the US visa-free.  The system was originally proposed 5 years ago, but developments have speeded up recently because of terrorist attacks in France and Belgium and a feeling that there is a need for improved security measures in the region. The proposal was finalized in November 2016, and was officially approved in July 2018.

So is ETIAS a visa?

No, not at all. The ETIAS is a new form of travel authorization intended for short-term tourist or business visitors of Europe who are currently exempt from needing a visa. These visitors are from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand as well as dozens of other countries.

What does this change mean for American visitors to the EU?

The change in the system would allow ‘third country’ citizens who are from an approved list of countries to apply for the ETIAS at least 96 hours before expected travel, as well as pay the required fee. This would include Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and many others considered ‘less of a risk’, who at present do not need a visa.

What are the ETIAS application requirements?

There are three requirements to complete the ETIAS application successfully. One of them is to have a valid passport from a visa waiver country (like the United States). All applicants must have an email address where they will receive notifications about the status of their application and where they will also be notified when the ETIAS has been approved. Finally, when registering with the ETIAS system, the applicant must have a valid method of payment, this can be a debit or credit card to pay for the application fee. If an application is not paid, it cannot be submitted for evaluation. All travellers ages 18 to 70 must have a valid ETIAS upon arrival in the Schengen Zone.

How do I apply for an ETIAS travel authorization when the system is implemented in 2021?

You can only apply online for ETIAS, as you would any other electronic travel authorization. Mail or postal applications are not accepted. Completing your online application form will take less than 10 minutes. In order to obtain an ETIAS visa waiver to visit the Schengen Area, the traveller will need to complete an online ETIAS registration form in which they should provide their personal info. The ETIAS form will ask of the applicant to fill in their full name, country of residence, nationality and date of birth. All applicants must complete the form with the details of their valid passport. It is the last part of the application where the traveller will need to answer questions about their criminal records, health, and whether they have visited conflict zones. After submission, your ETIAS application will be processed instantly and you will receive a decision from the system within 96 hours or less. If your ETIAS has not yet been approved and you do not have any other travel authorization, you will not be able to enter a country within the European Union. ETIAS will cost €7 euros for individuals over the age of 18. For persons under the age of 18, a fee will not be charged. All travelers, regardless of their age, will require a separate and approved ETIAS in order to travel to the European Union. The ETIAS will be valid for three years, or the passport expiration date (whichever comes first), and can be used for stays of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.

What happens to the information I provide on my ETIAS application?

All information provided by the applicant will be screened against several security databases including the Europol, Interpol, Eurodac, the Visa Information System and the Schengen Information System. It is strongly advised to be honest when completing the ETIAS application, the automated system will be designed to identify individuals who might pose a threat to the security of the region.

Will my ETIAS travel authorization be valid for travel across Europe?

ETIAS is only accepted in countries part of the Schengen zone and part of the ETIAS program. You can travel throughout the EU, although you may be subject to additional security checks by border officers within any European Union countries. Although the ETIAS grants you freedom of movement within the EU for short business or tourism visits, the ETIAS is a travel authorization, and thus can be revoked at anytime by the European border authorities.

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  1. Jim Reynolds

    Thank you, Sylvia for providing this clarification. Social media is surging with posts on the new rules, mostly trying to tie them into European reactions to the current American political atmosphere. As usual in stories attracting the couch warriors, the facts do not substantiate the furor. It is always helpful to have a security professional provide critical insight, and we are blessed to have you as a resource.

  2. Rosalie Small

    What happens if you’re over 70? Do you not need a visa or an ETIAS waiver?

    1. You need to register in ETIAS regardless of your age.

      1. Stacey

        The article says “All travellers ages 18 to 70 must have a valid ETIAS upon arrival in the Schengen Zone.? It goes on to say that people under 18 will not be charged so does that mean people over 70 will not be charged either?

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