Although not quite as powerful as some European passports, an American passport is pretty convenient to travel on. US citizens can enter a large number of countries visa-free, which makes crossing borders both easier and cheaper.
But news circulating yesterday (March 8) warned Americans the good times might be about to end, as US citizens would need a visa to visit the 26 European countries that compose the Schengen Area, starting in 2021. They currently can travel through them for 90 days with just their passport.
But though major news outlets reported this, Americans can actually relax: They will not, in fact, need a visa to visit Schengen Area countries, which include Spain, France, and Germany.
What they will need to do is register with the European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS, set up for travelers from about 60 so-called “liberalization countries” (pdf)—that is, nations that do not need a visa to visit the Schengen Area.
The ETIAS is essentially an online screening system meant to prevent potentially dangerous individuals from entering Europe. In a statement, a spokesperson for the European Commission said the EU expects that in 95% of cases the application will result in a positive result, and the traveler will obtain immediate permission to travel to Europe for three years, or until their passport expires if that happens before three years.
The registration will require neither a consulate visit nor the collection of biometric data.
The ETIAS is essentially the European version of the US’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which European citizens have had to fill out since 2008. However, the ESTA is only valid for two years, as opposed to the ETIAS’s three.
The ETIAS is also cheaper: At €7 (just below $8), it’s nearly half the cost of the ESTA ($14).