Update Feb 2021: The effective date has been moved to end of 2022, with no specific date mentioned.
Effective January 1, 2021, all visitors that currently do NOT need a visa to enter Europe’s Schengen-area, including U.S. citizens, will be expected to apply for an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) authorization.
Europe has recently decided to improve their security level to avoid any further problems with illegal migration and terrorism, for which citizens of 60 visa-waiver countries that will need to apply for an ETIAS visa Waiver when visiting the Schengen Zone.
The system will charge €7 (about $8) for would-be visitors from “visa-free” countries to complete the required application online. Approval will be valid for three years. Travelers are not required to go to a consulate or submit biometric data, and that it will gather “significantly less information” than during a standard visa application procedure.
American citizens, age 18 and over, will need to have a valid passport (that must be valid for at least 3 months beyond the period intended to stay), a credit or debit card and an email account. They’ll need to complete an online ETIAS registration with their their contact details and passport information, as well as answer some basic security questions regarding topics such as: Drug use, Terrorism, Human trafficking, Travel to conflict areas, Criminal history, Employment history, Past European travel information, Security information.
The European immigration and customs authorities will then be able to pre-screen all travelers and confirm their status, which will be required to even board a flight.
This is not a visa, but an authorization system, similar to an existing U.S. system called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which requires people from any of 38 other countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, to seek approval prior to arrival in the U.S. and to pay a $14 fee.
The ETIAS application is not yet online but you can sign up to be notified of when it is.