Updated 18 October 2023.
Starting in 2024, US citizens will need a (kind of) visa to visit Italy.
Before anyone freaks out, the new rule is actually more of a visa waiver program than a visa requirement and will be known as European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS.
I am American and I have always had a visa to live in Italy, but you currently do not need a visa to visit Italy for less than 90 days within a 180 day period if you have an American passport.
Once the travel restrictions are eased, Americans can still book their return flights and show up in Italy without a visa and without worrying about obtaining the official waiver through the end of 2023. And it is not just Americans – currently there are 1.4 billion people living in the 60 countries with visa free entry, and all will now have to register with ETIAS for pre-authorization to enter.
Initially, the program was slated to start in 2021. That has now been pushed back because of delays with Europe’s travel tracking program (and likely because of the travel interruptions caused by the global health crisis). In 2020 it was announced that US citizens will still need to have a visa waiver in the future to visit European countries which are a part of the Schengen – an area made up of 26 European countries that currently allow passport-free travel between their borders.
The new ETIAS system is very similar to what most non-Americans need to enter the U.S.: ESTA – Electronic System for Travel Authorization. And that is what US citizens will need to travel to Italy in 2024 – an authorization, not a visa.
Visas are hard to get and involve a great deal of documentation and scrutiny. The new system will likely be an online application that will take a few minutes to complete. Most people will pay a small fee (likely less than €20) and be approved instantly. A few others will need to provide additional documentation, and a very select few will be denied.
Once you have applied and been approved, your ETIAS should be valid for four years, so you don’t need to apply every time you want to visit Italy or other Schengen countries in Europe. You simply need to keep track of your application number and be ready to share it when you speak with the border control.
I am familiar with the ETSA process because my husband is an EU citizen, so he always has to ensure that his authorization to travel is valid if we are visiting the US.
In a way, it makes perfect sense to institute the equivalent back to Americans. Visas work on reciprocity – so if your government holds foreign nationals to one standard, then you should expect the same treatment from the foreign government. European officials also see this as an anti-terrorism measure.
When it goes into effect in 2024, if you don’t have the ETIAS visa waiver as an American, you might not be able to board your flight. However, the exact date when ETIAS will launch has not been announced. To be honest, while it is still slated to launch in 2024, the fact that no dates have been announced means that it will likely be delayed again. However, even if it all comes online quickly, since it is not intended to deter tourism, there is very likely to be a grace period… but eventually you will apply here.
“Before boarding, air carriers and sea carriers will need to check whether third country nationals subject to the travel authorisation requirement are in possession of a valid travel authorisation.”
However, for now, there is nothing to worry about or change in your immediate travel plans.
In the next few years, all you will have to do is one more step at least a few days before you fly. Annoying perhaps, but certainly worth it for security.