Americans Helping Americans Abroad


Currently, U.S. passport-holders traveling to European Union (EU) countries [1] for tourism or business do not need a visa as long as their stay does not exceed 90 days within a 6 month period.

Will this situation change? We are hearing that it might, but nothing is definitive. Here is what AARO has found out:

In 1986, the United States created the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in order to make travel between the U.S. and developed countries visa-free. The UK and Japan were the first two participants and over the years the VWP has expanded to 38 countries, including all 12 members of the EU when the VWP was created. With the end of the Cold War, both the VWP and the EU have expanded eastward but not in lockstep. The result is that today, the U.S. government offers reciprocal visa-free travel to citizens of 23 EU countries but not the other 5. The VWP has not been extended to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania, so their citizens are not entitled to visa-free entry into the U.S. This has been a source of dispute between the U.S. and the EU for several years and,according to Reuters, the European Parliament has asked the EU executive to require that Americans apply for visas before visiting any part of Europe this summer.

On March 2, 2017, the European Parliament passed a non-binding motion regarding visa requirements for U.S. citizens, to be introduced “within two months.” The issue was initially raised in 2014, when the European Commission addressed the absence of visa-free entry for citizens from certain EU countries traveling to the U.S., Canada, Australia, Brunei and Japan. All have resolved or promised to resolve the issue, except for the U.S., which still requires the visas.

The European Commission set a deadline of 2016 to deal with the matter, but no legal action has yet occurred. A second deadline, imposed for 2017 by European lawmakers for the Commission to respond, leaves open the question of who (if anyone) has power to enforce any punitive measures. After two months, the European Parliament can consider taking the European Commission to the European Court of Justice.

Should the European Commission concede and revoke visa-free travel for U.S. citizens, Americans will have to apply for extra documents for 12 months after the European Commission implements a ‘delegated act’, which will bring the change into effect.

Obviously, both tourism to and doing business with the EU could be hard hit. The European Tourism Association estimates that U.S. and Canadian visitors represent €50 billion ($53 billion) in tourist revenues, alone. American tourists continue to flock to Europe – with over 12 million individuals coming in 2016, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration. But more important for the expat community is the impact on family visitation and travel for Americans who spend important amounts of time in Europe but whose residence is the U.S.

Travel to the U.S. would probably also be affected. The VWP contains a “mutuality condition” which has been an obstacle to at least one (non-EU) country’s participation. We are not aware of the specifics of this condition but in the event that the EU requires visas from U.S. passport holders, the U.S. could be obliged, legally as well as politically, to respond in kind, suspending the VWP for all EU countries. In addition to affecting travel and tourism industries in the U.S., this would impact families of U.S. expats who travel on EU passports as they would be required to obtain visas from embassies or consulates to travel to the U.S.

We do not know how the Commission will respond to the Parliament or how the U.S. would respond to any measures taken by the EU. We hope tit-for-tat measures bruited about will not be taken; the economic and practical consequences would be too harmful for all concerned.

We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more.

[1] EU member countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece,  Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom