Will American Travelers Need a Visa to Visit Europe?

Lately, there has been a lot of misinformation in the media concerning the new requirements for American travelers visiting the Schengen area starting Jan 1, 2021. No wonder you may feel a bit confused. Let us get some things straight.

Let’s get to the point. Will you need a visa to travel to Poland or any other European country within the Schengen area? No. The European Commission had considered introducing visas for American travelers, but eventually decided against it in 2017. So what is all the fuss about?

The idea is to introduce a pre-screening program called the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). It is similar to the ESTA Program for travelers to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. According to the European Commission Fact Sheet, “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.”

What does this mean in practice? Non-EU citizens from visa liberalisation countries (such as the United States) will continue to travel without a visa. But before traveling to Poland or any other European country in the Schengen area, they will need a travel authorization.

How does the travel authorisation differ from a visa? In many ways. You won’t need to visit a consulate to apply for it. You won’t need any additional documents, apart from your travel document (passport or equivalent). It is expected that in 95% of the cases you’ll get the authorization within minutes, while the standard procedure for a Schengen visa takes 15 days (and can be extended even up to 60 days). And the authorization is valid for a longer period of time than a visa.

What will the procedure be? First, you will need to complete an online application through a simple, visitor-friendly website or on your mobile device. This process is expected to take no more than 10 minutes. Then, if you are between 18 and 70 years of age, you will be required to pay a EUR 7 fee (electronic payment). Most travelers will get an automated travel authorization within a few minutes. The travel authorization will be valid for 3 year (or until the expiry date of your passport) for an unlimited number of entries.

So, if you’re planning your Poland tour in 2019 or 2020, you will only need a valid passport (and if you haven’t started planning your trip yet, let's do it, click here to let RealPoland help). If you’re planning to come in 2021, you’ll probably need a valid passport, 7 euros and 10 minutes of time. Nothing to worry about, right?

Are there any advantages of the ETIAS for travelers? The European Commission expects this system will facilitate the crossing of external Schengen borders, avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy and delays at the border.

To learn more about the ETIAS, read the European Commission Fact Sheet.

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