The answer is … kind of! At the end of 2022, American citizens will need to apply and gain acceptance to the European Travel Information and Authorization System before being granted entrance into the Schengen area.
The 26 Schengen countries include 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.
Technically, the ETIAS is not a visa, but it is an application that travelers will have to complete and be accepted for before entering any of the countries within the Schengen area. Once inside a Schengen country, traveling to another country within the Schengen area doesn’t require you to apply for a new ETIAS. Once you are accepted, your ETIAS application is valid for three years, meaning you do not have to reapply if you leave and return to the Schengen area.
“The ETIAS authorization is not a visa,” the European Union website states. “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.”
A visa requires applicants to make biometrics appointments at official offices, where fingerprints and pictures are taken, and validating information is mailed to embassy offices typically in another state. A visa also has several limitations and requires applicants to apply months prior to visiting the country that requires the visa.
The online application includes an $8 fee and questions ranging from a passport number and prior travel history to drug use and terrorism. The questionnaire should take an average of 10 minutes, and approval can take minutes, with a 95% approval rating. Experts recommend applying for the ETIAS as soon as you book your trip to the Schengen area; however, you can risk it and apply up to 72 hours prior to your flight.
The ETIAS requirement was initially supposed to begin in January 2021; however, there were delays with the ETIAS Regulation and the Entry and Exit System, which is the electronic system used to track visitors in Europe. Along with these delays came the global coronavirus pandemic that put a halt to most work around the world.
The application system was put into place to combat terrorism and crime and keep track of all visitors who enter the area.
“The ETIAS will be an automated IT system created to identify any security or irregular migratory risks posed by visa-exempt visitors travelling to the Schengen area, whilst at the same time facilitate crossing borders for the vast majority of travellers who do not pose such risks,” the European Union stated in a July 2018 memo.
The ETIAS requirement will even have a six-month grace period where tourists visiting the Schengen area will be told about the requirement, but it will not be enforced until mid-2023, giving tourists the chance to apply and receive acceptance.
To apply for the ETIAS, applicants must have a passport valid for at least three months before your trip ends, a working email address, a debit or credit card, and knowledge of your health history. All travelers will need to have their own ETIAS application, but those under 18 will not have to pay the $8 application fee. The ETIAS limits travelers to a leisure or business stay of only 90 days but stays active for three years, and it will not replace an actual visa for those looking to stay in the Schengen area for a longer period of time.
Once accepted, the ETIAS still does not guarantee entry into a Schengen area country, but it does grant permission to enter. Entrance remains up to the border control agent, and travelers can still be asked to present return flight information, evidence of sufficient funds for the duration of the stay, or proof of travel health insurance.
The ETIAS system began its creation in 2016 and initially included 62 countries, such as the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Americans looking to travel to the United Kingdom for short stays still do not need visas as the U.K. is not a part of the Schengen area.