Beginning in 2021, U.S. citizens heading to most European countries will need authorization first — but the European Union wants everyone to know that this is not a visa requirement. Some news outlets recently ran erroneous stories that called the coming step a visa, sparking confusion in the traveling public and a clarification from the E.U.

The European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS for short, is a fully automated, online application to be completed before a trip to the Schengen Area, made up of 26 European countries. The fee is 7 euros. Travelers from the U.S. and other countries whose citizens do not require a visa, such as Canada and Australia, will be affected beginning in January 2021. The E.U. made the move to enhance border security.

Europeans must already complete a similar process before traveling here.

A European Commission statement describes the difference between a Schengen visa and an ETIAS travel authorization: “The ETIAS authorization is not a visa. Nationals of visa liberalization countries will continue to travel the E.U. without a visa but will simply be required to obtain a travel authorization via ETIAS prior to their travel. ETIAS will be a simple, fast and visitor-friendly system, which will, in more than 95 percent of cases, result in a positive answer within a few minutes. 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. Whereas, as a general rule, a Schengen visa procedure can take up to 15 days … the online ETIAS application only takes a few minutes to fill in. The validity will be for a period of three years, significantly longer than the validity of a Schengen visa. An ETIAS authorization will be valid for an unlimited number of entries.”


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