Planning a European holiday? Get ready for some extra paperwork. And a new fee.
Foreign visitors who currently enjoy visa-free travel to the European Union may soon have to register online and pay €5 before visiting the region, according to a new proposal from the European Commission.
The change would hit visitors to the Schengen Area, which includes most EU states, as well as Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The requirements would apply to citizens of all non-EU countries.
The idea is to force visitors to register so that their details can be checked against security databases before they arrive at the region's border.
That could help to identify people who might pose a security threat, the European Commission said. Interpol and Europol information could also be checked and visitors could be screened for public health risks and their immigration status.
Europe already gets this information about anyone traveling on a visa. However, it doesn't have means to screen visa-free travelers, including most American tourists, ahead of their arrival.
"We welcome 30 million visa-free travelers every year ... but our openness cannot come at the cost of security and safety of our citizens," said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU's top migration and home affairs official.
Europe is also looking to start taking photographs and fingerprints of visitors from outside the union -- a system the U.S. already has in place for non-citizens crossing its borders.
The proposed system might seem like a nuisance to some visitors, but it will still be much easier than getting a visa. According to the European Commission, the online registration form will only take a few minutes to complete and applicants won't be required to visit an embassy or mail any paperwork. Once registered, the authorization will last for five years.
The plan is very similar to the ESTA scheme used in the U.S., which requires visitors from countries with visa-free access to register prior to their travel. The online registration lasts for two years and costs $14. It takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Its European equivalent could be put into action within three years.
The new system would apply to British citizens once the U.K. leaves the European Union.