Traveling to Europe may start feeling a lot more like trying to get into Cuba and Congo. For generations, skipping across the pond was as easy as catching your flight and clearing customs. But in an announcement on Friday, the European Parliament has voted to end visa-free travel for Americans visiting five European countries — which include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania.
Normally, no visa is required for American to visit any European countries, but after the European Commission implements the new laws, American travelers will be required to apply for extra documents for any travel to the five countries for 12 months.
There is no word yet on when the visa requirements will take affect, but according to a report from Reuters, a Commission official said contacts are ongoing with the U.S. administration "to push for full visa reciprocity," but fell short of saying that immediate action would be taken. However, the vote to implement visas also urged the Commission to adopt restrictive measures against U.S. citizens "within two months" — so anyone planning to take a trip to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania might have a few new and unexpected hoops to jump through starting in May.
The change in visa requirements is the continuation of what some are calling a “visa war” between the European Commission and the U.S., and comes on the tail of a recent discovery by the EC. The commission found three years ago that the U.S. (along with Australia, Brunei, Japan, and Canada) have not met obligations under the reciprocity agreement. However, no visa requirements are being made for Australia, Brunei, Japan, and Canada—only the U.S.
Requiring visas from U.S. travelers is a response from the U.S. Capital’s refusal to grant visa-free access to people from four Eastern European states and Cyprus, while those from the other 23 member states can enter using the U.S. visa-waiver program. Since EU law requires equal treatment for all Union citizens, this seems to be a tit-for-tat response to Washington.
The visa requirement will surely have a negative affect on tourism dollars, but as for how it will affect travelers, experts say that any real inconveniences may just be a flash in the political pan. “In light of the recent announcement by the EU Parliament, we do not anticipate any changes for American travelers, with several reports indicating that actual policy change is highly unlikely," Leigh Barnes, the regional director of Intrepid Travel in North America, says.
Intrepid Travel, the world's largest adventure travel company, offers trips to all five of the European countries affected by the visa requirements besides Cyprus. "Europe, specifically Croatia, has been among our most popular destinations for American travelers in 2017. This announcement should be seen first and foremost as a political statement and we do not foresee it effecting travel between the United States and European Union."
As far as it goes for those with travel plans to Poland or Cyprus within the next few months, Barnes recommends that travelers not let political pettiness get the best of their chance to experience the world. "Amidst this ongoing visa saga, the most important and impactful thing people can do is to continue traveling, crossing borders, and fully embracing all this world has to offer," he says.