American citizens traveling to any of more than two dozen European countries will need to obtain authorization to do so beginning in 2021, the EU announced last week, but emphasized that this permission is not a visa.
The authorization is called the European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS. “The information submitted, via an online application ahead of … arrival at borders enabling pre-travel assessment of irregular migration risks, security or public health risk check,” according to eu-Lisa, a European Union agency.
This security procedure applies to countries in the Schengen area, which the U.S. State Department notes “encompasses 26 European countries, where internal border checks have largely been abolished for short-term tourism, a business trip, or transit to a non-Schengen destination.”
The 26 countries include many popular tourist destinations, including Italy, France and Germany.
The announcement created a flurry of back-and-forth on Twitter after several outlets and individuals called ETIAS a visa. “Wrong,” @EUintheUS said with a big red X before the word “Wrong.” “#ETIAS is not a visa. Please use official sources,” it said, directing readers to that official source.
Part of the visa/not a visa confusion may stem from a website that calls itself ETIAS Waiver Service for Europe and is headlined, “ETIAS Visa Waiver for Americans.” It is a travel agency site, and although it looks like an EU site, it isn’t.
Further, it costs less than a visa, it takes little time to process, unlike many visas, and collects no biometrics, said Maria Belovas, a representative for the EU delegation in Washington.
So if it’s not a visa, what is ETIAS? “Its key function is to verify if a third country national meets entry requirements before traveling to the Schengen area,” eu-LISA says on its website.
Although some details are still being worked out, the process is taking shape this way: You’ll apply online, and to do so, you’ll need a valid passport, an email address and a debit or credit card to pay the 7 euro (about $8) application fee.
“Forms are then processed through automated checks across various EU and international databases and screened for health or security risks,” an informational video on the eu-Lisa site says.
If your application is rejected, you can appeal, but otherwise, the process is supposed to take minutes. The permission is valid for three years or until your passport or travel document expires.