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Europe Travel Will Require an Authorization Starting in 2021

Travel to Europe is going to get slightly more complicated in 2021. Starting that year, visitors from the U.S. will need to get an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) approval before entering countries in the Schengen zone. According to the delegation of the European Union to the U.S., the measure is not a Europe visa, but an authorization that “will enable us to get more comprehensive information from travelers coming from visa-exempt, third-country [nations] arriving at the Schengen external borders.”

The new requirement stems from an E.U. vote we covered in 2017, which passed a measure to expand requirements beyond just passports. ETIAS is being buzzed about since an ETIAS-servicing travel agency recently emerged online.

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While ETIAS will be a new, extra step for American travelers, the inconvenience seems like it will be somewhat minimal. The authorization will be valid for three years, meaning travelers don’t have to reapply every time they travel. “Throughout these three years of validity of the ETIAS visa for USA travelers,” one ETIAS service explains, “it is possible to enter any of the Schengen zone European countries which apply to this visa as many times as necessary. The ETIAS visa for Americans is a multiple-entry visa with few restrictions in order to promote tourism while maintaining a high level of international security.”

One important requirement: When applying, your passport “must be valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay.” The agency also notes that “passports over 10 years old may not be accepted as a valid travel document,” but of course for Americans those passports would be expired, anyway.

In addition to a valid passport, ETIAS requires a credit or debit card (to pay a fee of about $8) and a valid email address. Enrollment is online, and travelers will receive confirmation via email. Currently, there is no indication of how long it will take to get an ETIAS. Presumably it will be good practice to apply at least four to six weeks in advance of needing it. The requirements don’t address any change in the current rule that requires individual visits to be under 90 days without a separate visa.

Affected Countries

As noted earlier, ETIAS only applies to the 26 countries in the Schengen zone: Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Malta, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. Plus, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City are also affected.

Notably, the U.K. and Ireland will not be part of ETIAS, though in the case of Ireland, an ETIAS servicer notes “it is very probable that in the near future that will change and they will require an ETIAS visa waiver to cross Ireland’s border.”  Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus each have somewhat unique situations, which are detailed here.

Readers: Are you surprised? Comment below.

Corrections: A previous version of this story stated that ETIAS is a visa. The European Union delegation to the United States has clarified, however, that “the European Travel Information and Authorization System is not a visa. It’s an online travel authorization similar to ESTA.” ESTA is the United States’ travel authorization program that applies to Europeans. A previous version of this story also misspelled Liechtenstein. It has been corrected.

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the Boston travel guide.

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