By 2021, Americans traveling to certain countries in Europe will have to preregister online as part of a security system intended to screen visa-free travelers.

The European Union announced last year that before entry, travelers from all visa-free countries, including the United States, will need to preregister and pay a small application fee using the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), a system designed "to strengthen security checks on those persons who travel visa-free to the EU," according to a fact sheet from the European Commission. It applies to people traveling to Europe's Schengen Zone, an area comprising of more than two dozen countries, including France, Germany and Spain, but not England.

Currently, U.S. citizens with a valid passport can visit Schengen countries and stay for up to 90 days without a visa, according to the State Department.

News outlets, including CNN, Esquire and Travel & Leisure, mistakenly reported this week that starting in 2021, U.S. travelers will need a visa to visit Europe.

It is not a visa.

Officials with the European Commission and the U.S. State Department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely on the process, confirmed that ETIAS is simply a travel authorization for visa-free travelers, similar to the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to screen people in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Inaccurate news reports have recently stated that the EU's ETIAS is a visa program.

The news reports appeared to lead to confusion online.

The EU delegation to the United States tried to clear it up, tweeting Friday, "Neither the #ESTA nor the future #ETIAS (EU equivalent) are visas. They carry out pre-travel screening for travellers benefiting from visa-free access."

Soon, they'll know who goes where and for how long. Ugh, I'm envisioning a global registration system. Or at least continental systems that can interface with each other.