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Americans will not be required to get visa to visit Europe from 2021

It’s a known fact that U.S. citizens traveling to European countries within the the Schengen Area will soon be required to apply for ETIAS travel authorization, but recent articles circulating on social media have led to quite a bit of confusion, leading many to believe they would have to apply for a visa.

Starting in 2021, U.S. travelers planning to visit any of the 26 countries within the Schengen Area for less than 90 days will have to go through a pre-screening and registration process in order to acquire ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) authorization.

While many news outlets and travel agencies are labeling this new requirement as a “visa”, it’s actually just a travel authorization similar to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) which is required by citizens of countries participating in the United States visa waiver program.

“Neither the #ESTA nor the future #ETIAS (EU equivalent) are visas,” the Delegation of the European Union tweeted. “They carry out pre-travel screening for travellers benefiting from visa-free access.”

The State Department also tweeted the ETIAS is “not a visa,” instead, calling it an “authorization.”

Clarification was also made last year in a press release as to what ETIAS really is:

The ETIAS authorisation is not a visa. Nationals of visa liberalisation countries will continue to travel the EU without a visa but will simply be required to obtain a travel authorisation via ETIAS prior to their travel. ETIAS will be a simple, fast and visitor-friendly system, which will, in more than 95% of cases, result in a positive answer within a few minutes.

An ETIAS travel authorisation 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, and can in some cases be extended up to 30 or 60 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 authorisation will be valid for an unlimited number of entries.

The ETIAS travel authorisation will be a necessary and small procedural step for all visa-exempt travellers which will allow them to avoid bureaucracy and delays when presenting themselves at the borders. ETIAS will fully respect this visa-free status; facilitate the crossing of the Schengen external border; and allow visa free visitors to fully enjoy their status.

The initial confusion stemmed from non-affiliated travel agencies such as etiasvisa.com incorrectly describing the authorization as a “visa”. Articles from these sites were circulated via social media and were even linked in news articles, causing a bit of concern, but a bit of digging reveals that most of these sites are not affiliated with the European Union, and are simply set up to capitalize on the news of the upcoming ETIAS requirements.

The application process

The application process is actually quite simple. Persons wanting to apply simply need a passport that is at least three months from expiry, a credit or debit card (to pay the online fee), and a valid phone number and email address. During the application process, users will be required to provide biometric information as well as information about your medical history, any criminal charges, countries where you may have been denied entry and past visits to countries going through war.

Once the application is submitted, the system will immediately run your stats against a number of different country databases, and can potentially provide results “within minutes.” However, the process can take up to two weeks as a hit on any of the databases may require further manual screening. Applicants who are denied will receive a reason as to why they were not approved.

The ETIAS authorization document is valid for three years from the date of issue, but will still only grant access to countries in the Schengen Area up to 90 days within a 180 day period. The cost to acquire ETIAS is a mere €7 for those 18 years and over, and free to those under the age of 18 years.

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