Yes, Americans Need a “Visa” to Travel to Italy in 2021

Starting in 2021, US citizens will need a 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.

Until 2021, Americans can still book their return flights and show up in Italy without a visa. 

Starting in 2021, US citizens will need to have a visa waiver to visit European countries which are a part of the Schengen – an area made up of 26 European countries which currently allow passport-free travel between their borders. 

The new ETIAS system is very similar to the U.S. ESTA – Electronic System for Travel Authorization. And that is what US citizens will need to travel to Italy in 2021 – 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. 

In 2021, if you don’t have the ETIAS visa waiver as an American, you might not be able to board your flight. 

“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. 

Ready to fly? Here is what to wear on the plane, and how to get from Fiumicino airport to Rome.

5 Comments

  • Reply Teresa March 19, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    I love your posts! I’m getting ready to move to Italy (Roma) this June from NYC. The visa process is a tough one! I’m using your blog as my bible for go to information 🙂 I’m so excited to start a new chapter in Italy!

    • Reply Natalie March 20, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      Ughhh, I know that process. In bocca al lupo!

      • Reply Bruce March 22, 2019 at 5:30 pm

        The visa process will give you a taste of the bureaucratic challenges that will affect most of your daily life in Italy. A big stumbling block for our residenza elettiva visas was the requirement of having proof of a place to live (with an official lease or deed -not a hotel) in Italy prior to submitting the application for the visa. However, the visa can only be applied for and issued in the US. In other words, you can’t come to Italy as a tourist, find a place to live and apply for the visa in Italy. We were very fortunate to have good friends here in Italy who could provide us with a place to stay, including a lease. However, the lease must be registered and have the appropriate marca di bollo attached. In order to have a proper lease, it will have to recite your Italian codice fiscale. If you plan to be in Italy before applying for a visa, obtain a codice fiscale while you are here. If you will be working, I think your prospective employer can help with this. We hired a relocation assistant who was able , with much difficulty to obtain ourswhile we were still in the US. Once you arrive here, you will need to apply for the infamous permesso di soggiorno within 8 days of arrival. Go to any Poste Italiane office and ask for “il kit per il permesso di soggiorno”. Don’t even think about trying to fill out the forms on your own. Even our Italian friends did not understand how to fill out the forms. Instead, go to an Italian labor sindicato such as CGIL, where we went. Make an appointment for assistance with the permesso and tell them that you must have it by the deadline date There is a CGIL office in virtually every city, and for about 20 Euro, they will fill it out for you in your presence. (The best 20 Euro I have spent here). After the form is filled out at the CGIl office, get to the Poste Italiane office (they close for the day a little after 1PM) and submit the form and be prepared to pay the appropriate fees. Some, but not all, credit cards are accepted. I can’t remember if you also need a marca di bollo, but if you do, remember that you can’t buy it at the post office, but you can at most any tabaccheria. The post office will give you a receipt and a document showing the date of your appointment with the Questura for the interview for the permesso. BE SURE TO KEEP YOUR RECEIPT, which is your temporary provisional permesso until you receive the actual card. I think there is an additional paper document that you get at the time of the questura interview. In Modena, there is about a three month wait for the interview and another month or two to receive a SMS message that you can go to the questura at a certain time to pick up your card. They will ask for the previously-mentioned receipt when you pick up the card. After you receive your temporary permesso, you can apply for a carta d’identita in the commune in which you live. You will need this carta for all kinds of things such as opening a bank account, buying a car, applying for the health system, etc.

        Study the expat sites carefully regarding driving a car. Your US license will allow you to drive for one year. After that you must have an Italian “patente” (driver’s license). No American can conceive how frustrating, difficult, time consuming , and expensive this process is. The one year grace period is not too much time to allot to this process, unless you want to make it a more of less full time job, in which case, it will take 3 – 4 MONTHS. . You will run into bureacratic difficulties regarding the health system, your utility contracts, your telephone and many other interfaces in your daily life, because many private companies are themselves bureaucratic. Most Italians do not like it either, but they just shrug and say “this is Italy”. You will also learn to shrug and say, “this is Italy”. Despite all that, this is a wonderful place to live, absolutely beautiful and full of generous friendly people.

  • Reply Deborah Clark March 21, 2019 at 1:42 am

    Thank you so much for the heads up. My husband and I are planning at least 2 more trips to Italy (our first was in 2016) in 2020 and 2023 and this was something I deck I felt hadn’t heard of. Love your articles. Keep them coming!

    • Reply Natalie March 21, 2019 at 10:55 pm

      My pleasure! They are still working on the details but it will be an online form to complete ahead of departure. Nothing serious, but an extra step that people should know about.

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