New border procedures for travelers arriving in Europe

Two changes are coming in 2022 for US travelers heading to Europe. First, there will be a new electronic Entry-Exit System (EES); and second, Americans will have to apply for a Visa Waiver through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).

The slick new EES will use biometric data* (more about that in a minute) embedded in your passport to register your arrival and departure. It's designed to speed up entry and exit lines at passport control, and to eliminate human error, where some travelers would not receive an entry or exit stamp on their passport, which could cause problems later, if border guards thought you had overstayed your welcome. Unfortunately for those of us who like to show off the number of stamps in our passport, the new, all-digital system means that there will not be any more passport stamps when entering or leaving the Schengen Zone.

Note that the EES will only affect those arriving in Europe's Schengen Zone from a non-Schengen area (like the US or Britain). There is no change to how borders within the Schengen Zone work – there are no passport controls when moving from one Schengen country to another. Traveling from Germany to France, for example, is no different than traveling from California to Arizona.

The introduction of the new EES – long delayed by the pandemic – is expected to occur in the first six months of 2022. 

*Biometric Data: All US passports issued since 2007 contain a small microchip that includes the information printed in your passport (physical description of the passport holder, and a digitized version of your passport photo). At the moment there is no other information on the chip, though in the future is could include fingerprint and facial recognition information).

A more significant change to entry procedures which will also be introduced in 2022 is the ETIAS Visa Waiver program. The word 'Visa' means 'seen'. Typically, travelers to a foreign country have to submit their passport to the embassy of that country in advance, which allows the foreign country to do a little checking up you. They want to know just who it is that's planning to travel to their country, to make sure they are people of good character and are coming for a legitimate purpose. Once the foreign embassy has vetted you they put a visa stamp in your passport, proving that you have been 'seen' and that you are allowed to enter the country.

For many years most of the countries in Europe have not required a visa from American travelers. Just by virtue of being a US passport holder it was assumed that you were OK. Americans could stay in the Schengen Zone for up to 90 days within any 180 day period without any sort of special visa.

Beginning sometime in 2022 Americans (and other non-EU residents) will need to register for a Visa Waiver by filling out an online ETIAS form in advance of travel. This is sort of a 'visa' – allowing the EU to have a look at who is planning to travel, without the hassles of having to submit your passport in advance and get a special stamp. Submitting the form will cost €7 (around $8), but the waiver is good for three years, so if you're a frequent traveler you won't have to do it every year.

The implementation date for ETIAS has not been set yet, but it's likely to be towards the end of 2022.

If you think it's a little unfair that Europe is requiring this from US travelers, keep in mind that ETIAS is virtually identical to the ESTA Visa Waiver procedure Europeans visiting the US have long had to follow.

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