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).

The ETIAS system is designed "to strengthen security checks on those persons who travel visa-free to the EU," according to a fact sheet from the European Commission.

The rule applies to people traveling to Europe's Schengen Area, a region 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 last 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.

Inaccurate news reports have recently stated that the European Union's ETIAS is a visa program.

The news reports appeared to lead to confusion online.

"There is no need to go to a consulate to make an application, no biometric data is collected and significantly less information is gathered than during a visa application procedure," the commission fact sheet said, adding that the online application takes only a few minutes to fill out.

Travelers will need a documentation, such as a passport, and be asked to pay a $7 application fee.

A spokesman for the European Commission said the ETIAS system will be operational in 2021.