There has been a lot of misinformation spread about Americans needing a visa to visit Europe. This is simply untrue; Americans will not soon be required to obtain a visa to visit most of Europe. However, starting in 2021 United States passport holders will need to apply with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) and pay a small fee before traveling to many countries in Europe.

Before US citizens start feeling singled out, registration with ETIAS will not just apply to United States passport holders. There are currently more than 60 countries whose nationals are exempted from holding a visa when traveling to these specific European states. The list includes passport holders from Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea, among many others. Citizens from all of these visa-exempt countries will also have to obtain travel authorization with ETIAS before traveling to much of Europe.

What countries will require ETIAS authorization to enter?

ETIAS authorization will be required starting in 2021 to visit countries in the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area is a group of 26 European states that have abolished passport and border control at their mutual borders.

Which countries and territories are in the Schengen Area?

The Schengen Area is not the same as the European Union, although EU countries are required to join (the exceptions are the Republic of Ireland and the UK, who negotiated exclusions). Currently, there are four non-EU countries that belong to Schengen, along with three micro-states who are de facto members. There are also four EU countries that are not yet part of the Schengen Area.

  • The 26 Schengen Area countries are: 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.
  • Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus are the remaining EU members required to join Schengen. These countries have not yet passed all of the required EU preparedness assessments for their visas, air borders, personal data protection, and police cooperation.
  • Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City are the three micro-states that are de facto Schengen members.
  • The Azores and Madeira (part of Portugal), along with the Canary Islands (part of Spain) are also in the Schengen Zone although they are located outside of the continent of Europe.

Are all overseas territories and departments of Schengen countries also part of the Schengen Area?

No, the overseas territories and departments of Schengen countries are not considered part of the Schengen area. The only exceptions are listed above (Azores, Madeira, and Canary Islands).

What is and isn’t changing?

Currently, American passport holders are allowed to spend 90 days in the Schengen area countries without a visa. For stays longer than 90 days, travelers are required to contact the embassy of the country in which they plan to spend the majority of their time to apply for a visa. (Other rules apply for longer stays; for further information visit the US Department of State’s page on European travel).

Beginning in 2021, US passport holders will need to apply with and receive authorization from ETIAS before travel to the Schengen area countries. A visa will not be required for stays of 90 days or less.

How long does ETIAS authorization last?

According to the European Commission, ETIAS authorization will be good for a period of three years, or until the expiration of the travel document used during the application. The authorization will be valid for an unlimited number of entries into the Schengen Area within that period.

Will you still need a passport with the ETIAS authorization?

Yes, a valid passport book will still be required to visit Europe. The US Department of State recommends that you have at least six months remaining until your passport expires when traveling to Europe.

What will Americans need to do to get ETIAS authorization?

Americans, along with citizens of the other visa-exempt countries, will be able to register with ETIAS online via a website or a mobile application. The online system does not appear to be active as of the date of this publication. However, there are many active websites that claim to be official ETIAS sites. These appear to be independent agencies and not the official ETIAS website.

The process will be much quicker and significantly less expensive than a visa application. Visas can sometimes take weeks to obtain and cost several hundred dollars.

According to the European Commission,

“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 […] (T)he online ETIAS application only takes a few minutes to fill in.”

EC press release, 5 July 2018

Filling in the application is not expected to take more than 10 minutes. ETIAS will require a travel document such as a passport or its equivalent. If an individual is unable to apply due to age, literacy, or disability, the application may be submitted by a third party.

How much will the ETIAS application cost?

The European Commission says that the cost to apply for ETIAS authorization will be €7 (about 8 USD) for applicants between the ages of 18 and 70.

How long will it take to receive authorization to enter the Schengen Area?

The EC expects that more than 95% of applicants will receive an automated approval within minutes of payment. The vast majority of those not receiving immediate approval will receive approval after manual authorization within 96 hours. All others will receive a decision via email within four weeks of applying.

For anyone not receiving authorization, there will be an appeals process available.

Why is this change happening?

As border security increases around the world, the EU and European Commission are working to put more safety measures in place.

The European Parliament passed the ETIAS regulation in July 2018, and the European Council adopted the measure in September of that year.

“We need to know who is crossing our borders […] By cross-checking visa-exempt travellers against our information systems for borders, security and migration, the ETIAS will help us identify anyone who may pose a security or migration risk before he or she even reaches the EU border […] The ETIAS will also help us to strengthen and safeguard mobility for visa-free travellers who do not pose risks, while identifying those who do.”

European Commission press release, 25 April 2018 

The US has required a similar process from visitors from many foreign countries since 2009. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is required for passport holders from 38 countries that have visa waivers in place to visit the United States. The processing fee for this program is $4, and those receiving authorization are charged an additional $10.

How will this affect cruise travelers?

The European Commission says that both air and sea carriers will have to check for ETIAS authorization before allowing passengers to board.

Are there any European countries that currently require Americans to obtain a visa?

Many recent news articles have stated that US passport holders do not require a visa to visit Europe. Although this is true for EU and other Schengen Area countries, there are just a few exceptions that are not commonly known.

Belarus is the only European country that requires US tourists to obtain a visa for entrance, but only in certain circumstances. A visa is required for stays longer than 30 days if you fly into Minsk airport. If you enter or exit at border crossings other than Minsk Airport, or if you travel directly to or from the Russian Federation, a visa is necessary for all visits.

Russia and Turkey, both of which lie in Europe as well as in Asia, also require a visa before entering.

What do you think about the ETIAS program? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: I may receive a small commission when you make a purchase from a link on this site, at no added charge to you. I was not sponsored by any companies I may mention in this article. I paid for and personally used all products and services I recommend, and the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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About the Author

Carrie Ann is the founder of Should Be Cruising and a lifelong travel fanatic. A former flight attendant, she now prefers cruise ships over airplanes and spends several months each year cruising and exploring cruise ports. Facebook | Instagram

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  1. Thank you for clarifying the situation with the new ETIAS. There always tends to be misinformation and panic when something like this hits the news. As I am an Australian I am glad that you covered the details for us and other countries as well.

    1. There was definitely a bit of panic here, especially since several major news sites were publishing incorrect information! The new program sounds like it will be a quick and easy process, not the expensive and time-consuming ordeal that was initially reported.

  2. I have been reading about this in travel news lately. As an Indian, we almost always have to get a visa for most countries, so it’s something I am used to. I can understand for other countries who have enjoyed the freedom to travel more freely; this can seem as problematic. Unfortunately, with the state of affairs in every country being chaotic, it might be the right step to take.

    1. I agree! Those of us from visa-waiver countries aren’t used to this extra step when we travel. Thankfully it looks like a quick and easy process, and will help with border security.

  3. I am from Europe and it’s very hard for me toget visa to USA. I had no idea about getting visa for US citizens until I read this post. It’s very informative and up to date as this topic is quite loud now. Thanks for sharing this info.

    1. Yes, there are a few European countries like yours whose citizens need visas to visit the US. Most just need to apply with ESTA. The ETIAS program I explain in the post is not an actual visa, but a screening program much like ESTA.

  4. I just envy individuals with “powerful” passports. Unfortunately, I would need a visa to visit Europe. It took us a while to obtain one. I hope more countries would be open and waive the visa requirement for Filipinos.

  5. This whole news about the ETIAS authorization for US passport holders and pretty amusing for me because, I hold an Indian passport!
    With mine, I have to process a visa to almost wherever I go!!
    Good to know that your ETIAS process is a pretty quick & cheap one when compared to actual visa processing!

    1. The uproar in the US stemmed from the fact that several major news outlets mistakenly reported that US citizens would have to get actual visas to travel to Europe. They all later posted updates, but many people only saw the original story and not the retraction. We in the US definitely have a much easier time traveling internationally with so many countries not requiring visas for us!

  6. Such a useful post with American travellers. Unfortunately, these days there is so much confusion about the real and fake news. Glad you took time to write this post. Wish my passport was as “powerful” as the US. Unfortunately, I need a visa to visit Europe even though I visit it 2-3 times a year.

    1. There was definitely confusion when the inaccurate version of this news was published by some well-respected publications! I truly hope that the screening process can become more streamlined and less expensive for people who are traveling from non-visa waiver countries.

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