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Why U.S. Citizens Will Soon Have to Pay a Small Fee to Travel to Europe

5 minute read

This year marks the last summer that U.S. passport holders can travel to European countries without a new travel document, known as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which comes into effect in 2024.

While there is yet no fixed date for next year’s implementation of the ETIAS program, the entry requirement will impact U.S. citizens—and passport holders from a total of 60 nations—wishing to travel to 30 European countries for stays of up to 90 days. These include the 27 member countries in the Schengen Area—including some of the most popular destinations like France, Germany and Italy—as well as non-Schengen E.U. members Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus. Previously, travelers from the U.S. could enter without prior authorization, and the change in policy was made to better track those entering and leaving E.U. countries amid increasing concerns around terrorism and irregular immigration, according to the European Commission.

The U.S. has held a similar mandatory travel authorization system, known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) since 2009. Visitors from Europe have since been required to have a valid ESTA to arrive in the U.S.

While there has been some confusion about whether ETIAS is a visa, including a misinformed social media post from Donald Trump, the European Commision says it is not a visa but a “small procedural step” to avoid border delays. By comparison, “the procedures for getting a visa to visit Europe are longer, more complex, and more expensive,” Shkurta Januzi, Editor-in-Chief of travel resource website Schengen Visa Info, tells TIME.

“The ETIAS will be one of the cheapest travel authorisations to exist,” says Januzi. ETIAS can be applied for in a number of minutes by providing a few key details, and the application process costs the traveler €7 ($7.72). Januzi notes that visas require fees of more than €80 ($88.2), numerous supporting documents such as bank statements, flight and accommodation reservations, and travel insurance, which is significantly more rigorous than the ETIAS application.

“Sometimes applicants have to wait for months to get a visa appointment, and often, they have to wait over a month to get a response on their application. None of this is required for an ETIAS,” says Januzi, adding that 97% of ETIAS applications are expected to be approved automatically.  

Here’s what else to know about ETIAS and what the new system entails.

What is ETIAS?

ETIAS is an electronic travel authorization document similar to those used in numerous other countries such as the ESTA form, which allows its holders to stay in the U.S. for a maximum of 90 days. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand also have similar requirements for tourists wishing to enter. 

The travel permit will be valid for three years and can be reused for multiple trips amounting to no more than 90 days in a 180 day period of stay. A tourist must have a valid ETIAS for the entire duration of their stay but they are free to leave and come back within the stipulated limit. ETIAS is valid for arrival by air, sea, or land.

How do you apply for ETIAS?

Once the system for granting ETIAS is in place, travelers will be able to apply for the documentation online and the process is supposed to take a few minutes. Travels can apply on the official website run by the E.U. or other licensed intermediaries. The application process is simple but includes some personal information such as a passport number, date and place of birth, and information about the upcoming trip.

Applicants under the age of 18 or over the age of 70 will not be charged for their ETIAS and no medical information, such as vaccine status, will be required. The authorisation is linked to an individual’s passport and customs officials will ask to see the same form of identification to verify if a passenger is eligible to enter the country. Travelers who do not meet the criteria will be refused entry. If an ETIAS application is rejected, applicants will be informed of the reason.

Why have the travel rules changed?

The incoming changes brought about by the European Union are a bid to secure borders and mitigate terrorism risks. The ETIAS program was approved in 2016 and scheduled to be in place during 2021, but there were delays with the adoption of the ETIAS Regulation and the Entry/Exit System (EES), an automated IT system for registering travelers from third-countries every time individuals cross an EU external border.

What does this mean for U.S. travelers in Europe?

U.S. passport holders planning trips to Europe should try to apply for an ETIAS at least 96 hours prior to departure. While the approval process typically takes a few minutes to process, and days to come back, travelers could be asked to supply additional information or undertake an interview and these additional steps could lengthen the process.

Other than the additional administrative task and a small fee, the process of traveling to Europe will not vastly change: “The impact of the ETIAS requirement on the way Americans travel to Europe is expected to be unnoticeable, if not negligible, since getting an ETIAS will be super quick, easy and cheap,” Januzi asserts. 

She also notes that there will be a “grace period” of six months from the moment ETIAS is implemented. In this time, citizens arriving in the Schengen Zone without a form will be permitted entry to their destination country with a warning to obtain an ETIAS on their next trip so their trip will not be thrown into chaos should they forget.  

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Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com