The days of spontaneously traveling to Europe on a whim are coming to an end for U.S. citizens. For many years, U.S. citizens have been able to travel to most European countries with only a valid U.S. passport as a travel document. In 2021, the European Schengen Zone will be requiring a registration similar to the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization registration system (ESTA) from U.S. citizens traveling to the Schengen Zone. Currently, the Schengen Zone includes 26 European countries: 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.
The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) will be similar to the U.S. ESTA. All U.S. citizens traveling to Europe to enter the Schengen Zone will be required to register in advance. ETIAS is not a visa application. It does not require a trip to a Consulate. The application is completed online and will require a passport valid for three months beyond the intended stay, an email account and a credit or debit card. The cost will be approximately $8.00. The expectation is that 95% of applicants will be approved for a three-year ETIAS.
There are still almost 100 countries where U.S. citizens will continue, for now, to be able to travel without a visa or any pre-registration. Prior to travel, always check the U.S. State Department website for any entry requirements or country specific travel warnings. Useful tips for everyone, but especially for those traveling with children, also include:
- Travel with certified birth certificates or raised seal birth certificates for everyone in your party. This is especially important if traveling with minor children because passports carried by children of U.S. citizens do not contain their parents’ names;
- Passports should be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay and have several empty pages, as some countries may require this for entry;
- Bring extra passport photos and cash should those be required for an unexpected on-the-spot visa application (approximately 50 countries require U.S. citizens to obtain a visa on arrival);
- Carry up-to-date immunization certificates and proof of health insurance; and
- Check current airline luggage and security policies.