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Currently, travelers with valid U.S. passports can visit Schengen countries and stay for up to 90 days without issue. However, starting in 2025, an additional requirement may be put in place.
Read on to educate yourself about all the current and upcoming requirements to visit Europe and the steps you’ll need to take to be prepared for this change.
What Is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Area is a zone of 30 European countries that have removed their internal borders to “facilitate free and unrestricted movement of people.” These countries have a border-free visa agreement that allows movement throughout the area without a traveler needing to show their passport every time they cross a border.
The Schengen Area covers most of the EU, except the U.K., Ireland, and others awaiting approval.
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Countries Requiring ETIAS
What Are the Current Requirements To Travel to Schengen Countries?
Currently, 58 countries are not a part of the EU, but citizens from these countries can still enter countries in the Schengen Area for business or travel purposes for up to 90 days without a visa. The U.S. is one of these 58 countries.
Citizens of the U.S. and the other 57 countries pictured below can enter the Schengen Area without getting a visa beforehand. Your passport simply gets stamped upon your arrival and departure from Europe.
A rule limits your stay to 90 days within every 180-day period. Your first entry to any countries listed above is when the 90- and 180-day counters start. Days are accounted for cumulatively over this time period.
For example, if you stay in Italy (a Schengen country) for 30 days, go to the U.K. (not a Schengen country) for 30 days, and go on to travel to Greece (a Schengen country), your overall allowable days would still be at 30 days upon your initial entry into Greece.
What Is the Schengen Visa?
All citizens of countries that have not yet reached a visa agreement with the Schengen member states need to obtain a visa prior to their arrival in Europe. Since the U.S. does have an agreement, citizens of the U.S. typically do not need a visa to travel to Europe.
If you are staying longer than 90 days or are traveling for business purposes, this could vary. Be sure to check our Do I need a visa (or extension) to visit Schengen countries? graphic below for more details.
What Is ETIAS?
ETIAS stands for “European Travel Information and Authorization System” and is a form of electronic travel authorization. This new system will monitor all visitors from countries that do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Area.
The system works by screening travelers before their arrival in the Schengen Area. The ETIAS process will determine whether a citizen can enter the Schengen Area. By cross-checking information against various databases, ETIAS can detect if a person is a security threat to any Schengen country.
This change was implemented due to increased security risks and is an effort to better manage individuals passing through the EU’s borders. The EU began introducing ETIAS in 2016, and the system is expected to be launched in 2025.
ETIAS is not a visa. In 2025, when arriving at the EU borders you must have a valid travel document and an ETIAS authorization. Most commonly, a valid travel document is a valid U.S. passport.
An ETIAS travel authorization does not require visa-like obligations. For example, there is no need to go to a consulate to apply. There is significantly less information collected for this travel authorization than a visa application.
The U.S. already has a similar system in place. The U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) determines the eligibility of visitors who travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The cost for ESTA is higher than the future ETIAS fee.
Starting in 2025, Americans and travelers from other visa-free countries must apply for an ETIAS travel authorization before leaving for their trip to any of the Schengen countries noted above.
Steps To Get an ETIAS Authorization
The good news is that the process is relatively straightforward. You simply need to complete an online application form. Let’s review the process details, including what information you must provide.
Filling Out the Form
This is a process that must be done before your departure date. Depending on your country of citizenship, the online application will display several fields to complete. Your valid passport is the only document you will need to apply for the ETIAS.
You must give the following information:
Personal information such as:
Last name at birth
Date of birth
Place of birth
Information regarding your citizenship
Email and phone number
Education and work experience
First EU country you intend to visit
Background and eligibility questions that will inquire about any medical conditions, travel to war countries, places where you were deported or rejected, and criminal records
ETIAS is intended to identify threats to the EU. Those going to Europe with a criminal record for a minor offense and medical conditions that are not a public health threat should be able to get an ETIAS visa waiver without problems.
Paying the Fee
The ETIAS is planned to cost only €7 (~$8) for each application. This fee may be subject to change. The fee applies only to adults between 18 and 70 years old. Individuals outside that age range will not owe a fee.
The ETIAS fee can be paid by debit or credit card. Immediately after you complete the payment, your ETIAS authorization will start processing.
Even though they won’t need to pay the fee, minors still need travel authorization upon arrival in the Schengen Area to enter. A legal guardian must apply for the minor’s ETIAS.
ETIAS Application Results
The system will:
Check if the information you gave was correct
Check your eligibility
Check your risk factors
ETIAS will also cross-check data against the EU information systems for borders, security, and migration, including the Schengen Information System (SIS), the Visa Information System (VIS), Eurodac, Europol, and Interpol databases.
If what you filled out on the application form is correct, you’ve not been deemed a risk, and you’re eligible to enter, your application will be approved. This whole procedure is expected to be completed in only a few minutes.
However, the application will be manually reviewed if there is an exception from the system. The manual processing is expected to take about 96 hours (4 days) up to a maximum of 2 weeks.
According to a press release by the EU, “the online application shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes long, and automatic approval will occur in 95% of the cases.”
Approved ETIAS Applications
Once approval is received, your ETIAS travel authorization is valid for 3 years or until the end of the validity of the travel document you registered during application (whichever comes first). This authorization will also be valid for an unlimited number of entries.
If your travel authorization is refused, the relevant national authority must inform you about their decision or ask you for additional information within 96 hours.
If you must provide additional information, a decision must be made within 4 weeks of the initial application date. In case of refusal, you always have the right to appeal.
Per the EU, a travel authorization can be revoked or annulled if “the conditions for issuing the travel authorization no longer apply, or if the travel authorization holder is found to have violated any of the ETIAS rules.”
Do I Still Need a Schengen Visa or Extension?
While the ETIAS requirement will not go into effect until 2025, the following rules for extensions and visas are currently in place. For a typical vacation, U.S. citizens will not need to apply for a visa or an extension.
However, if you plan to stay in the Schengen Area for longer than 3 months, you must obtain a separate visa or apply for an extension.
Unfortunately, if you are traveling for longer than 90 days for personal or educational reasons, the process to extend your stay in the Schengen Area is not straightforward.
Steps To Obtain an Extension
If you are a student studying abroad applying for a “Long-Stay Study Visa” or simply a tourist hoping to stay longer than 90 days, there is not 1 standard process to obtain a visa for long-term travel in the Schengen Area. Each country has a separate application process, and approval is not guaranteed.
You must apply for an extension with the embassy of the respective country where you reside. The main thing to know is that you must remain in your application country until your visa extension is processed.
Here are the steps to take to file for an extension:
Contact the embassy of the country where you plan to spend the majority of your time to determine specific requirements.
Schedule an interview if required.
Examples of documents you will have to provide include:
Passport, which must have the current visa or stamp under which you entered the Schengen Area
Proof of income, which shows you can financially maintain yourself during the period of time you have applied to get a visa extension (as you are not usually allowed to work)
Documents that prove your situation and the need to get a visa extension
Attend the interview.
Pay the non-refundable fee that varies by situation.
Wait for a decision on your application.
Processing Time for Visa Extension
Your visa extension application can take a few days (up to a month) to be processed. You can remain in the country where you submitted your application even after your visa expires, but you cannot travel to other Schengen countries.
If you are granted a visa, you can remain — if you aren’t granted an extension, you will have to leave in 1 to 2 days.
It is very important to apply on time, which is at least a week before the expiration of your visa or before you hit your 90 days on your passport stamp.
If you are moving for work-related reasons, your company should help facilitate your process to obtain a visa. This is a separate process, as a Schengen visa does not allow visitors to work during their travels.
Steps To Obtain a Visa
Contact the embassy of the country where you plan to spend the majority of your time to determine specific requirements.
Examples of documents you will have to provide include:
2 recent photos
Valid passport with a minimum validity of 3 months
Travel health insurance
Proof of accommodation
Proof of financial means
Evidence of employment status
Submit your application at least 15 calendar days before your planned arrival to the Schengen Area.
Make an appointment at the embassy of your destination country.
Wait for a response on your visa application. The Embassy or consulate will typically reply in 10 working days.
Beyond being relocated by a company, a few countries offer “freelance visas” meant for people who want to live and work in Europe for a time. Germany, Spain, and the Czech Republic offer the most opportunities for this, with visas lasting 1 to 2 years.
This is a more complicated process — the application process alone could last over 6 weeks. But it is possible to prove you have a job and money to support yourself. Check out the links above if you would like to look into this process in more detail.
Penalties for Overstaying
Adhering to the 90-day limit is incredibly important, as you could face some tough penalties for overstaying. This could happen very easily. Say you are scheduled to leave the Schengen Area on the ninetieth day of your stay, and you miss your return flight — this means you’ve overstayed the 90-day limit (even if it’s unintentional).
This is the most common penalty received. If you’ve only stayed a day or 2 extra, you could get away with a warning. However, you could also get hit with a fine of up to €1,200 (~$1,334).
The exact fine you receive will depend on the country you are caught in. Certain countries, like Germany, are notoriously strict, while others, like Greece, are more lenient.
Immigration officers and border guards tend to be suspicious of people who overstay once, no matter which country they were caught overstaying. The country that caught you may put something on your personal record for the Schengen countries, making it hard to get a visa or ETIAS travel authorization in the future.
Banning people from entering the Schengen Area is the most serious consequence, though it’s usually applied to those overstaying and working or engaging in other illegal activities. A person can be banned from entering any of the member states of the Schengen Area for a period of 3 years or more.
Top European Travel Tips
Now that you are educated on all the requirements for visiting Europe, here are some tips to make your trip successful!
1. Get Your Documents in Order
Make sure you have a valid passport. Some European countries require that you have 6 months of validity past your entry date. Others only require 3 months.
There are several kinds of travel insurance: trip cancellation insurance, flight cancellation insurance, medical insurance, etc. The best time to buy insurance is right after you put down the major deposits on your trip, whether that entails airfare, a package, or prepaid hotels.
Check your medical insurance coverage to see if you’re covered overseas. If not, you may want to purchase supplemental medical insurance to cover situations like the cost of transportation back home for emergency care.
Making reservations in advance is the best way to secure accommodations and tours, especially during peak travel season in Europe.
For what you know you want to do, it pays to book a ticket in advance to avoid the long lines and get tickets on those trains that work best with your travel plans. You may even want to buy a Eurail Pass if you plan to use trains a lot during your travels.
4. Bring a Suitcase You Can Carry
Whether navigating the train station, walking on cobblestone streets, or carrying your luggage up several flights of stairs at your hotel, having a suitcase you can lift up and carry when needed is a must!
You won’t need as much as you think, and laundromats are readily available throughout Europe if you need to do laundry during your trip.
Be sure to pack light so you can bring easy-to-carry luggage. For starters, you don’t have to pay for checked luggage, show up early to the airport, stand in long lines to check your bag, or wait for your bags to come out at baggage claim.
You also don’t have to worry about the airline losing your bag, you’ll be able to switch to an earlier or non-delayed flight more easily, and you can take public transportation to get around, which is usually faster and cheaper – especially in Europe.
While most of the world now accepts credit cards, it’s not uncommon for European places to only accept cash.
Having euros on hand for tips, taxi rides, restaurants, purchases at local markets, and daily activities will make your transactions smoother. It can also save you money on foreign transaction fees.
7. But Also, Choose the Right Credit Card
Do yourself a favor and find a card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. For those locations that accept a credit card, you will be happy you’re not taking on additional fees each time you swipe your card.
Be sure to notify your bank and credit card company before traveling so you don’t find your accounts frozen!
8. Skip the Money Exchange Counters and Find an ATM
Along these same lines, never ever use money-changing counters (especially the ones located by airports). They usually have horrible exchange rates.
ATMs are usually easy to find in an airport, and with the correct card, you can pay little to no fees for your withdrawal.
9. Stay in the Center of Town
Spending the night in a hotel in the suburbs may seem cheaper, but it’s not always worth it. When you consider the transportation to and from the city, or the hassle of finding a restaurant in a residential area, sleeping far from downtown can be a real pain.
Instead, book a moderate place in or near the city center. Or even better, use your hotel points for a free night! You’ll be able to reach the main sights and find cafes and restaurants on foot.
10. Learn Basic Foreign Phrases
Although English is becoming a popular second language across Europe, don’t expect everyone to speak English. That being said, learning a few basic phrases is always a great idea.
Don’t be embarrassed to sound like a non-native speaker. Locals will appreciate the effort and might be more helpful as a result. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to use hand gestures, facial expressions, and pointing to convey a message.
11. Download Useful Apps
Google Translate is free to download and can translate over 90 languages! With this app, you can translate any text (including street signs and menus) just by holding up your camera… all without an internet connection!
TripIt and Google Trips organize all your travel itineraries and documents, so you have everything in 1 place before you even get to your destination.
Other apps that may also be useful are Mobile Passport, XE Currency Converter, FlightAware, Google Maps, Uber or Lyft, and Priority Pass.
12. Check Your Phone Plan
Before using all these apps, ensure your cell phone is ready for data usage. Before leaving on your trip, call your provider and ask them if you are covered for the countries you are traveling to or if they have a temporary plan available to extend your coverage.
If not (or you don’t want to pay the fees), turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode and just use Wi-Fi. Some of the apps listed above (such as Google Maps and XE Currency Converter) are available in offline modes.
The best way to combat jet lag is to get on the local schedule as soon as possible. If you take an overnight flight and don’t get much rest, fight the urge to sleep right when you arrive.
That first day may be tough but try and stay awake until at least 10 p.m. so you can get on local time as soon as possible.
14. Enroll in STEP
The U.S. Department of State urges citizens to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which helps the embassy alert you in times of trouble. STEP is a free service allowing U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
15. Compare Trains vs. Planes
When looking at travel times, a 1-hour flight may look a lot more time-efficient than a 3-hour high-speed train, but that is not always the case. Airports are usually located outside major cities, and it can take 30 minutes or more to get there.
Train stations are typically located in city centers. It might be just a short walk or metro ride from the station to get you to your hotel. When you factor in check-in time and transit to and from the airport, it may be faster to take that train.
16. Understand Electricity Concerns
The electricity supply in Europe is 220v, whereas North American voltage is 110V. Many devices like cell phones, laptops, tablets, and camera chargers have built-in converters and will automatically accommodate the change in voltage (110-240V). This will be noted on the label.
If your item isn’t adaptable, you will need a power converter.
All told, a short trip to Europe should still be painless for most U.S. citizens. While Americans may be frustrated about an added barrier to travel, the ETIAS should be a simple and easy process.
If you are not a U.S. citizen or a U.S. citizen who plans to stay longer than 3 months, you will always need to apply for a visa or an extension.
Featured Image Credit: Jeff McCollough via Adobe Stock
Frequently Asked Questions
What is ETIAS?
ETIAS is a form of electronic travel authorization. This new system will go into place in 2025 in order to monitor all visitors from countries who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Area.
Do you need a visa to visit Europe from U.S.?
If your travel plans are less than 90 days and you are a U.S. citizen, you will not need a visa to visit countries in the Schengen Area.
Which are the Schengen countries?
The Schengen area includes: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
How long can you travel in Europe without a visa?
Americans can only stay in the Schengen area for a period of 90 days within any 180-day period. This is a cumulative number, so if you leave the Schengen area, the countdown clock stops and doesn’t start until you enter it again.
Do I need a Schengen visa?
For a typical trip to Europe for U.S. citizens, you will not need to obtain a visa. If you plan to stay longer than 3 months or work during your time in the Schengen area, you will need to obtain a separate visa or apply for an extension.
How much does a Schengen visa cost?
If you need to obtain a visa, fees vary based on your age and the purpose of your trip. The fee for adults is €80 (~$85), children ages 6 to 12 are €40 (~$42), and under 6 is free. Fees may be waived depending on the purpose of your trip.
How can I get a Schengen visa?
You will need to apply directly with the member state where you will spend the majority of your time. Each member state has a different application process. Make sure to check out our article above for more details.
How much does ETIAS cost?
The fee for getting your ETIAS travel authorization is €7 (~$8) per person.
After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a certified CPA.