What Americans Really Need to Know About the European Union 'Visa'

Recently, news broke that Americans would need a visa to travel to the European Union in 2021. While not all were happy with this announcement, it seemed to settle until this morning when outlets began recalling their original reports, now saying Americans wouldn’t need a visa.

So, which is it? Do Americans need to apply for a visa to visit European Union countries? We’ve broken it down for you.

Visa or No Visa?

“U.S. citizens visiting parts of Europe will need authorization from the European Union come 2021," read one outlet's coverage.

So, why then were news outlets calling it a visa yesterday? That’s because a website set up to inform Americans about this new requirement, which is named “EtiasVisa.com,” calls the authorization a "visa" prompting many to assume it’s a visa.

The website calls itself "a professional travel agency" and is "not affiliated with any European Government."

Etiasvisa.com reads: “U.S. citizens traveling to Europe will shortly need to apply for an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) visa which is the new travel visa to visit Europe that will come into effect from 2021.”

Later they wrote: “To obtain the Europe Visa for Americans, U.S. citizens will need to have a valid passport, a credit or debit card and an email account.”

It gets even more confusing when the European Commission wrote in a statement: “The ETIAS authorization is not a visa. Once operational, it will carry out pre-travel screening for security and migration risks of travelers benefiting from visa-free access to the Schengen area. When arriving at the EU borders travelers will need to have both a valid travel document and an ETIAS authorization.”

Again the informative website contradicts this. “When enrolling in the ETIAS database which is the same as applying for the Europe visa…” it reads.

Followed by, “At the moment there is no EU visa for U.S. citizens for periods of less than 90 days. This will change however from 2021, when those American citizens traveling to Europe from U.S. will require an ETIAS visa valid for 3 years.”

Simply put, the website Etiasvisa.com is wrong.

Despite what looks to be an informative website by the European Commssion to educate Americans about ETIAS, is not. It's clearly wrong in its description and reporting of ETIAS causing plenty of confusion on Saturday.

So is it a visa or not?!

ETIAS is really not a “visa.”

Schengenvisainfo.com describes it like this: “ETIAS stands for European Travel Information and Authorization System. It is a completely electronic system which allows and keeps track of visitors from countries who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Zone. In a way, it resembles the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which serves a similar purpose.”

Americans who fill out the ETIAS form will allow the EU to “carry out pre-travel screening for security and migration risks of visa-exempt visitors. This will help to identify any possible security concerns prior to their travel to the Schengen area, thus contributing to more efficient management of the EU’s external borders and improved internal security.”

All in all, the ETIAS is meant to save travelers time and secure European Union borders from security risks.

What do you have to do?

In 2021, Americans will have to complete an online application before visiting 22 of the Schengen countries which include: 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.

The online application shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes long and automatic approval will occur in 95 percent of the cases.

The online application will include submitting information on your passport, background and personal data and paying a 7 euro fee (for travelers between 18 and 70 years old), or $7.87 USD.

An ETIAS authorization will be good for three years, allowing Americans to travel freely between the Schengen countries.

Again, the ETIAS is really not a visa

Despite the confusion surrounding the word “visa,” the reality is that signing up for the ETIAS authorization application is not the same as applying for a visa.

A Schengen Visa involves far more steps including filling out an application, offering proof of travel insurance, financial means, accommodation and employment, as well as providing a trip itinerary that includes roundtrip flights. Schengen Visas cost more, involve submitting the applications to embassies and only last for 90 days.

The ETIAS, is clearly, not the same as a visa.

For Americans, the ETIAS will be a simple and easy process compared to the work and time involved with a Schengen Visa. Plus, it’s basically the same thing as the ESTA, an authorization form that the U.S. requires of many travelers from other nations to fill out before visiting the U.S.

While Americans may complain about having this very minor barrier to travel, it’s good to know that the ETIAS isn’t a visa – because that would be far more time consuming than the ETIAS ever will be.