The Schengen Area
The Schengen Area is an area comprising 26 European states that have officially abolished passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders. The name Schengen comes from Schengen in Luxembourg, where the agreement was signed.
The area mostly functions as a single jurisdiction for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy.
Although most of the Schengen countries are in the European Union you should not confuse the Schengen Area with the EU.
The 26 Schengen countries are: 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.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2021, American citizens will have to register online, through the new European Travel Information and Authorization System, to enter any of the 26 Schengen-area countries, plus four countries currently in the process of joining the area, regardless of the duration of their visit or the number of countries visited. The European Council adopted the policy in September 2018.
What documents should you bring upon entry?
If you are a US citizen with a US passport traveling to the Schengen countries for tourism or business, you will not need a visa as long as you spend 90 days or less in these countries. Under this agreement, you can enter the Schengen area as long as your stay does not exceed 90 days within a 6 month period.
- US Passport
- As a US citizen, you will need to make sure that the validity of your passport extends 90 days after your initial arrival in the Schengen area.
- Proof of funds
- You may need to bring documentation that shows that you have sufficient finances to support your entire stay in the region
- Purpose of travel
- You may need to provide a reason – and documentation that can support this -for your travel to the region
- You may also need to show additional entry documents depending on the countries you will be traveling to. Be sure to investigate each destination country and any additional paperwork required
What To Expect From The New EU Registration Requirements For U.S. Travelers
While it’s not a visa, U.S. travelers will need to begin pre-registering for travel to 26 countries in Europe starting in 2021. Travel Agent spoke with Ryan Amizi, editor for etias.com, a website dedicated to spreading awareness regarding the new European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), to learn more on what to expect.
“To enter European member countries right now, [U.S.] travelers can just hop on a plane and go through customs,” says Amizi. “With ETIAS they need to be cleared to travel by applying at least 72 hours prior to boarding.”
The new rules apply to European Union (EU) countries that are part of the Schengen area (The 26 Schengen countries are: 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.), for travelers from the United States and other countries offering visa-free travel to Schengen members. There will be a 7 Euro per person processing fee, although processing will be free for travelers under 18.
While the minimum requirement for an ETIAS application is 72 hours in advance, Amizi advises travelers apply at least a week beforehand. “Processing should be instant, but if someone has a hit – say, their name matches someone on an Italian criminal database – it’s likely there will be some additional processing to see if this person is ok,” Amizi says.
Importantly, third parties – including travel advisors – will be able to fill out an ETIAS application on behalf of their clients. “They will need to disclose on the form,” Amizi says.
The new ETIAS was established last July to improve security following the introduction of similar programs in the United States and Canada.
“After the terrorist attacks in France and Germany over the past two years, they just want a better understanding of who’s entering their borders, and one area they looked at is visa-free travel,” Amizi says. “It’s reciprocating American and Canadian programs that are already in place.”
Finally, Amizi recommends those traveling in early 2021 apply well in advance. “There will be some hiccups as there always are when deploying systems like these.”
What should I expect upon arrival?
When you arrive in a Schengen member country, you will still need to show your passport and go through customs. At this external border, if approved entry, you will receive a stamp with the date indicating your arrival into the country. Once admitted, you will have free access to move within the Schengen region as long as you do not spend more than 90 days within a 180-day period.
What should I expect when departing the Schengen region?
Your passport will be stamped when you leave the Schengen region and you will need to wait another 90 days before you can apply again without a visa.
Driving in Europe
The following countries do require International Driver’s Permits in conjunction with a valid United States’ driver’s licenses: Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Slovenia, and Spain; again, you might not even be asked for the IDP in these countries, but technically you’re required to have one or risk being fined.
There have been some tourists that have been denied cars in Italy because they did not have it.
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