The US passport, while not the most powerful passport in the world (Japanese passports have that honor), is pretty good for allowing travel to many places around the world without needing to apply for a visa ahead of time. In fact, the US passport visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 185 countries worldwide.
US Citizens Will Need to Take an Extra Step Before Visiting Europe after 2020
Unfortunately, that is going to change in 2021. At that time, US citizens will need to do a simple application called European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS. This is very similar (and perhaps being done in reciprocity?) to the ESTA that is required for European passport holders visiting the US. This is not a visa! There are a lot of stories about this over the last 24 hours and there is some panic by people about having to apply for a visa to visit Europe with a US Passport.
Is This a Visa?
No, this is not a visa, you won’t need to mail anything in, you won’t need to go to an Embassy. All this is a simple, extra step that you would take if you were visiting Australia with a US passport. There will be a website where you submit your information, pay the fee (something small, around €7 or so), and then wait for the answer. The answer will likely come within hours though it could take a couple of days.
If there is a denial, the passport holder will have a chance to make an appeal. This system is being setup in a way that will provide a couple of things – a chance to know who is coming before they come, have the information registered about the visitor, and get a little bit of money. 🙂 Of course, that last little bit helps!
When Will This Happen?
This new ETIAS will be valid for 3 years and will be valid for multiple entry. This new system will be in place January 1, 2021.