Europe is the most-visited region in the world and has always been a very popular destination for U.S. travelers. After pandemic travel restrictions were dropped across Europe in 2022 and as Americans plot future journeys to the continent once again, they should be aware that the rules for entry into the European Schengen Zone will soon change.
Initially meant to come into effect on January 1, 2021, and then delayed again until 2023, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is now slated to launch in 2024. At that point, all U.S. citizens who want to travel to the 26 member countries of Europe’s Schengen Zone will need to register with ETIAS or risk being turned away at the border.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new ETIAS process.
Why are the requirements for entering Europe changing?
The European Union decided to implement this new travel authorization program to protect and strengthen its borders amid mounting terror threats in Europe. By requiring visitors to register, the EU will be able to identify any possible threats or risks associated with travelers coming into these countries before they arrive.
Which European nations will require ETIAS authorization to visit?
The new travel authorization applies to those entering any member country of Europe’s Schengen Zone. Currently, that includes 22 countries that are also members of the European Union, four non-EU countries, plus three European micro-states. That means that you’ll need to register to enter:
- Czech Republic
- San Marino
- Vatican City
While Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus aren’t currently Schengen countries, they are in the process of joining and will be subject to the same requirements once they do.
However, there are still many European nations that aren’t part of the Schengen Zone, mostly in Eastern Europe. That means you’ll be able to travel to Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkiyë, and Ukraine without an ETIAS registration.
Who will need to obtain ETIAS authorization?
American citizens, as well as travelers from 60 other countries, will require an ETIAS visa waiver to travel to any of the Schengen-zone countries for short stays once the ETIAS program goes into effect. The list of ETIAS-eligible countries includes Canada, Mexico, Australia, and many more.
Does this mean I will need a visa to travel to Europe?
ETIAS is not a visa, it’s a travel authorization requirement for visa-free visitors, similar to the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
The new entry requirement “is more accurately referred to as a visa-waiver. The ETIAS, like the ESTA, is a travel authorization for travelers not requiring a visa to visit Europe. Under the ETIAS, these visitors will undergo additional security checks prior to being permitted to enter the EU. The ETIAS will be mandatory for citizens of such countries as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada,” states ETIAS.com, the landing page for news and information regarding the new travel authorization process.
In other words, ETIAS will only prescreen travelers who do not need a Schengen visa.
According to a fact sheet provided by the European Commission, “Nationals of visa liberalization countries will continue to travel the EU without a visa but will simply be required to obtain a travel authorization via ETIAS prior to their travel.
“An ETIAS travel authorization does not reintroduce visa-like obligations,” it continues. “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.”
How will travelers apply for ETIAS and how long will the authorization process take?
Once the ETIAS application is available online, it should only take about 10 minutes to fill out, according to ETIAS.com. To apply, you’ll need a valid passport, an email address, and a debit or credit card to pay the nonrefundable 7 euro application fee, which applies to individuals between the ages of 18 and 70. Those under the age of 18 or over 70 still need to have an ETIAS but will not be charged. There are no other fees associated with the program. After you fill out your application online with the personal information on your passport and answer a series of security and health-related questions, your ETIAS application will be processed immediately, and you will receive an email confirming that your ETIAS has been approved within 96 hours or less.
“A small percentage of applications may take up to four weeks to process if additional documentation is required from the applicant. If your ETIAS has not yet been approved and you do not have any other travel authorization, you will not be able to enter a country within the European Union,” according to the ETIAS website.
Will you have to reapply for each trip to Europe?
No. After you apply for the first time, your ETIAS will be valid for three years—or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Because the ETIAS is valid for short-term stays of up to 90 days for both leisure and business travelers, you’ll be able to re-enter Europe multiple times within that three-year period without renewing it, as long as your stay doesn’t exceed 90 days within a 180-day period. Those who want to study or work in Europe will need to apply for a proper work or study visa.
Why has the launch of ETIAS been delayed?
Initially meant to come into effect on January 1, 2021, the ETIAS was first delayed until January 1, 2023. It is now slated to enter into operation in 2024, due to delays in the anticipated adoption of the ETIAS Regulation plus the fact that ETIAS is being developed closely with the Entry/Exit System (EES), which is now scheduled to launch in May 2023, according to the European Commission. The EES is the electronic system that keeps track of visitors as they cross borders, and it is a precondition for ETIAS to enter into operation.
Once ETIAS goes into effect in 2024, a transitional period of six months will follow. During that time frame, the countries requiring the travel authorization will have to inform passengers of the new regulations. Passengers will still be allowed to cross borders during that six-month period without the ETIAS. The six-month transitional period will be followed by a grace period, the length of which has not yet been determined. During the grace period, the ETIAS requirement will apply unless it’s a passenger’s first time entering Europe since the end of the transitional period.
This article was originally published in 2019. It was most recently updated on March 3, 2023, to reflect current information.