Fact Check

Will US Passport Holders Be Required to Get a Visa to Enter EU in 2024?

On social media, some users described it as the "end" of "visa-free" travel for U.S. passport holders headed to Europe.

Published Jul 26, 2023

 (Elke Wetzig/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Elke Wetzig/Wikimedia Commons
Starting in 2024, the European Union (EU) will require visitors from the United States to apply for a visa in order to enter the region.
What's True

Starting in 2024, the EU will require visitors from around 60 visa-exempt countries – including the U.S. – to apply for travel authorization through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). This is a quick online application that comes with a fee of $7.75. In most cases, applicants can expect to get approval within minutes.

What's False

The ETIAS application is not a visa in the traditional sense, as it applies only to citizens of certain visa-exempt countries, is quicker than a visa application, and has no biometric process. It is similar to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) that the U.S. imposes on citizens of countries exempt from applying for a visa to the United States. It has been characterized by EU authorities as the alternative to the visa application in certain special cases.

Back in 2022, the European Union (EU) announced a new travel authorization scheme for citizens of certain visa-exempt countries to travel to that region. After numerous delays, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is set to launch in 2024, on a yet-specified date. 

The announcement triggered a slew of misleading headlines claiming that U.S. passport holders would now have to apply for visas to enter the EU. An ABC7 headline, for example, stated, "US citizens will need visa to travel to Europe in 2024," while CBS News wrote, "European Union to require U.S. travelers with passports to fill out visa application."

Even on social media, users described it as the "end" of "visa-free" travel for U.S. passport holders headed to Europe:

This characterization of the new travel requirements is overly simplistic and misleading, prompting us to rate the claim as a mixture of truth and falsehoods. It is correct that under the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), the EU is imposing a new requirement on U.S. passport holders to fill out a travel authorization application and pay a small fee. However, this is not the same as applying for a typical Schengen visa (referring to the 27-country Schengen area that guarantees unrestricted travels to visa holders) to enter the EU.

Firstly, per the EU website rules, the ETIAS process applies only to citizens of around 60 countries (see the full list here) that are already visa-exempt, i.e., whose citizens are not required to get a visa to travel in the region. The EU itself does not describe this new requirement as a visa application (emphasis, ours):

ETIAS travel authorisation is an entry requirement for visa-exempt nationals travelling to any of these 30 European countries. It is linked to a traveller's passport. It is valid for up to three years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. If you get a new passport, you need to get a new ETIAS travel authorisation.

With a valid ETIAS travel authorisation, you can enter the territory of these European countries as often as you want for short-term stays — normally for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. However, it does not guarantee entry. When you arrive, a border guard will ask to see your passport and other documents and verify that you meet the entry conditions.

The ETIAS procedures make a distinction between getting a visa and getting a travel authorization. The EU notes in its requirements for a valid travel document that if citizens of certain countries like Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina have biometric passports issued by their countries, they can apply for ETIAS travel authorization. If they hold "any other type of passport," then they will "need a visa to enter any of the European countries requiring ETIAS." 

The form requirements are like visa applications but with fewer details needed. The ETIAS applications require visitors to submit the following information:

Personal information including your name(s), surname, date and place of birth, nationality, home address, parents' first names, email address and phone number;

Travel document details;

Details about your level of education and current occupation;

Details about your intended travel and stay in any of the countries requiring ETIAS;

Details about any criminal convictions, any past travels to war or conflict zones, and whether you have recently been subject of a decision requiring you to leave the territory of any country.

Each ETIAS application carries a fee of 7 euros, which is almost 8 U.S. dollars.

The Washington Post noted, "this authorization is only valid for 90 days of travel within a 180-day period. If a traveler has not yet reached a 90-day stay in an E.U. country but wants to travel again more than 180 days after the authorization was first used, they will need to apply for a new authorization." 

Furthermore, travelers from countries that are not visa-exempt "may not need to apply for a visa and can travel with an ETIAS travel authorisation instead" in certain circumstances. Those include students on a school trip who are nationals of visa-required countries but reside in visa-exempt countries, as well as Switzerland or Liechtenstein. The full list of specific cases is available here

The EU's official website stated that most applications are processed "within minutes." However, the site recommends that travelers submit their applications as soon as possible, as there could be exceptions: "It is possible however that your application may take longer to process. If so, you will receive a decision within four days. Please note that this period could be extended by up to 14 days if you are requested to provide additional information or documentation, or up to 30 days if you are invited to an interview. This is why you should apply for an ETIAS travel authorisation well in advance of your planned journey."

Cameron Hewitt, content and editorial director at Rick Steves' Europe, a travel media company, told The Washington Post that U.S. travelers shouldn't worry too much: "It'll be a minor hassle, but it's not unusual for countries to have entry requirements like this one. It certainly shouldn't cause anyone to rethink a trip to Europe. From what we know, ETIAS looks like it'll simply be a manageable bit of red tape."

Meanwhile, citizens of dozens of other countries are required to apply for a Schengen visa application, which covers travel to the entire EU region. Visa applications for these vary based on the specific country in the EU that one applies to. In Germany for example, one has to provide proof of financial means to cover the entire trip, travel health insurance, and evidence of a hotel booking, among other details. Most EU country consulates require applicants to give their biometric information at in-person appointments. 

CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg noted, "If they [the EU] institute it, there is nothing to stop the Americans from instituting a visa charge for them to come into the United States. It doesn't prove anything other than more paperwork and more revenue that goes nowhere." 

However, the U.S. already has a travel authorization form that EU country passport-holders (among others) have to fill out and pay for before they enter the country for short-term travel. This is called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), and it applies to 40 countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), including EU member states. ESTA's application requires basic identifying information, contact information, travel documents, and a $21 online fee. 

In short, while instituting ETIAS in 2024 means American passport holders will have to fill out a form and pay a small fee in order to visit the EU, this is not the same as applying for a Schengen visa application. It is also characterized by the EU as an alternative to the Schengen visa process (which is more cumbersome and has many more requirements) for specific cases. We thus rate this claim as a "Mixture."


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Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.