One of the best things about holding an American passport is that you can travel to most countries without the hassle and cost of applying for a visa. According to the Henley Passport Index, as of January 2020, a U.S. passport granted visa-free entry to 184 countries, tying for the eighth most powerful passport in the world. That’s pretty impressive, but is that all about to change?
In short, no.
You may have heard that Americans planning to visit Europe will soon be required to obtain a visa. That isn’t quite true. While there is a change on the horizon, you can relax. Once Europe opens its borders after the COVID-19 pandemic, getting to Europe will remain relatively easy (and awesome).
Of course, it is important that you understand what’s coming, so here’s the quick and dirty version: Starting sometime in 2023, Americans must register for travel to the Schengen Area of Europe by applying for something called the ETIAS.
Don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about? Don’t worry, you’re in the right place. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the ETIAS and how it might affect your European travel plans.
What Is the ETIAS and How Does It Work?
Sometimes called the ETIAS visa, the ETIAS isn’t actually a visa at all. It’s technically a visa waiver. It stands for European Travel Information and Authorization System, and its purpose is to improve security in the Schengen Area by collecting information on visitors from lower-risk countries.
Currently, U.S. passport holders and travelers from other low-risk countries can visit the Schengen Area visa-free, without any special security screening or cost implications. The ETIAS, whose original 2021 rollout has been delayed until late 2022, will shake that up a little.
Beginning sometime after 2022 (likely early 2023), U.S. passport holders will need to apply for the ETIAS before they visit a European country that is part of the Schengen Area. The online application process is easy and cheap, so it isn’t a big deal, but it is an important step that you won’t want to skip.
Applications need to be completed at least 96 hours before entering the Schengen Area. When travelers provide their personal and passport information, the ETIAS system will cross-reference that info against numerous databases to make sure there are no security risks associated with the applicant. If red flags are identified, the applicant will need to provide additional information before being cleared to travel.
This helps promote security of Schengen Area countries in a couple of ways. It allows them to collect information about who is entering the region, and it enables them to require that ETIAS applicants with security flags provide additional information or go through the more stringent process of applying for an actual Schengen visa.
What Is the Schengen Area?
This might be a good time to back up and explain what the Schengen Area is. Simply put, it’s a group of 26 European countries that have entered into a treaty to allow free passage between their borders. You might hear it referred to as Schengen, the Schengen Region, or the Schengen Zone.
As a visitor, you show your passport and move through customs and immigration upon arrival in one of the Schengen Zone countries. After that, you can freely cross into neighboring Schengen countries. It makes travel within Europe incredibly easy and saves a lot of time in immigration lines.
The Schengen Area is sometimes equated to the EU (European Union), but that isn’t quite accurate. They overlap some, but here’s where things get a bit confusing. Most, but not all, EU countries are members of the Schengen Zone. For example, Ireland is in the EU, but it’s not a Schengen country. There are also a few Schengen countries, such as Norway and Switzerland, that aren’t EU members.
To make it simple, here are the 26 countries that currently make up the Schengen Area. You’ll need an ETIAS visa waiver to visit these countries beginning in 2023:
- Czech Republic
Who Will Need the ETIAS Travel Authorization?
Anyone who can currently visit the Schengen Area visa-free but does not hold a Schengen-country passport will be required to obtain an ETIAS. This includes Americans, Canadians, Australians, and people from many other countries the EU classifies as low risk.
Travelers of all ages will be required to obtain an ETIAS, but those under age 18 won’t have to pay the processing fee (more on that in a minute).
Who Won’t Need the ETIAS?
This should be obvious, but Schengen-country passport holders won’t need to register through the ETIAS. They will still move freely between member countries – no changes there. This also applies to people with dual citizenship for a member country. Travelers holding a Schengen visa will not need the ETIAS, either. Basically, it only applies to non-Schengen-country passport holders who are currently visa exempt.
U.S. residents who hold international passports (but not a U.S. passport) should check if their home country has a visa-free regime established with Schengen. If not, they will be required to apply for a Schengen visa before departing for one of its 26 countries.
How Much Will the ETIAS Cost?
The ETIAS is expected to cost €7. It’s valid for three years, so that works out to a whopping €2.30 per year. If you can afford European travel, I think you can swing it. (And if you can’t afford European travel, read this to learn how to travel for free.)
How to Apply for the ETIAS
You’ll be able to apply for the ETIAS online quickly and easily. This will be the only way to apply. Postal applications will not be accepted.
To apply for the ETIAS, you will need to have:
- A valid passport with at least three months of validity remaining on the date you arrive in the Schengen Area
- A debit or credit card to pay the application fee
- A current email address
Applications should take about 10 minutes to complete. You’ll have to share:
- Personal information (name, date and place of birth date, gender)
- Contact information
- Passport details
- Travel plans
Most applications will receive a response within minutes, although some may require up to 96 hours. Occasionally, additional documentation may be required, which could drag out the application process for up to four weeks. Still, most people should get a response via email quickly.
If your ETIAS application is approved, you’ll receive a confirmation email. If your ETIAS application is denied, you will receive a notification and explanation via email. You will then have the option to appeal the decision.
Once you receive your approval, the ETIAS travel authorization will be linked to your passport electronically. When you enter the Schengen Area, border control personnel will be able to see that you have a valid ETIAS.
How Long Is the ETIAS Valid?
Once you have been approved for the ETIAS, it will be good for three years or until your passport expires – whichever occurs first. You can use it to enter any Schengen country and move freely between them any time during that period.
The ETIAS is intended for short-term business travel or tourism, so your stay is limited to 90 days in a 180-day period. This is sometimes referred to as the 90/180 rule. Under the current visa-free regime, stays are restricted in the same way, so that isn’t going to change.
How Does the 90/180 Schengen Rule Work?
Some people get this confused, so I want to be clear about how the 90/180 rule works.
The 180-day period doesn’t begin on the day you enter the Schengen Area – it’s continuous. So, think back over the past 180 days. Were you in the Schengen Zone for more than 90 days within that period? If not, you’re good to go.
It’s also important to understand that it isn’t about being in Schengen for 90 consecutive days. The total is cumulative. That means you can’t reset the clock by leaving and then coming right back.
For example, you can’t spend 90 days in Germany and Austria and then pop into Croatia (which isn’t part of Schengen) for a week before crossing into Hungary. Hungary is part of the Schengen Area, so you’d be denied access because of the 90/180 rule.
So, if you’re planning an extended European trip, be careful not to overstay your ETIAS travel authorization. Consequences could include deportation and/or a fine. And if you are denied entry, you’ll have to buy a ticket to a non-Schengen country on the spot, which could be expensive. No thanks!
How Is the ETIAS Different From the Schengen Visa?
As I mentioned before, the ETIAS isn’t a visa; it’s a visa waiver. That means people who are approved for the ETIAS don’t have to obtain a visa to visit the Schengen Area.
So, what’s the practical difference between the ETAIS and a true Schengen visa? Well, a fair bit, when it comes to the application process and the price. Getting the ETIAS is much easier and cheaper. Check it out:
- Mode of Application: ETIAS applications can be completed online (and only online) within 10 minutes. That’s pretty painless. When applying for a Schengen visa, it’s a whole process. Applicants have to visit the embassy or consulate representing their destination country and complete an interview. We’re not talking about a quick 10 minutes here.
- Documentation Requirements: To apply for the ETIAS, the only document you need is a valid passport with at least three months remaining. To apply for a Schengen visa, you’d need your passport, two photos, a travel insurance policy, proof of accommodation, and more.
- Processing Time: Most ETIAS applications will be processed within minutes. Schengen visa applications can take up to 15 days, which means applicants have to plan further in advance.
- Cost: The ETIAS is expected to cost €7 for adults aged 18 and up and be free for kids under 18. The Schengen visa costs €60 for adults, €35 for kids aged 6-12, and are free for kids under 6. While the cost of obtaining a Schengen visa could be significant, especially for family, the ETIAS’ €7 price tag is negligible.
The Bottom Line: How Will the ETIAS Affect My Travel Plans?
Likely beginning in 2023, Americans will need to register for travel to European countries within the Schengen Area. The application process will be easy, cheap, and fast. It seems that most people with a valid U.S. passport will be approved within minutes.
Because the ETIAS will be linked to your passport electronically, there won’t be any extra paperwork to worry about once you arrive. The 90/180 rule for visiting Schengen will carry over to the ETIAS, so no big change there, either.
The truth is, with the exception of spending about 10 minutes on the online application and about 8 bucks, getting the ETIAS isn’t going to cause most people any inconvenience worth talking about. It certainly won’t be on the same level as applying for a visa. And hey, improved security is rarely a bad thing.
What do you think about the coming ETIAS visa waiver? Will it affect your travel plans? Let us know in the comments below!