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Question: My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe this summer. I recently read that the European Union may not allow visa-free travel for U.S. citizens. Does this mean we’ll need to get visas for the countries we plan to visit?Murray ZichlinskyAnaheimAnswer:...

Will you need a visa to go to Europe this summer? That's a definite maybe.

Question: My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe this summer. I recently read that the European Union may not allow visa-free travel for U.S. citizens. Does this mean we’ll need to get visas for the countries we plan to visit?Murray ZichlinskyAnaheimAnswer:...

Will you need a visa to go to Europe this summer? That's a definite maybe.

Question: My wife and I are planning a trip to Europe this summer. I recently read that the European Union may not allow visa-free travel for U.S. citizens. Does this mean we’ll need to get visas for the countries we plan to visit?

Murray Zichlinsky

Anaheim

Answer: At this point, the answer is a definite maybe. There is no clear-cut response to Zichlinsky’s question — not yet anyway. Which is annoying, but then almost everything about a visa is.

As with anything involving international borders, there are issues beyond the issues. Let’s look at them and see whether the tangle of who is doing what to whom might become, if not clearer, at least less perplexing.

OK, so what is a visa?

It’s permission to enter a country, and it’s usually recorded as a stamp or sticker in your passport. Sometimes you must apply well in advance, and sometimes it costs you a pretty penny.

Do you always need a visa to visit a foreign country?

No, not always, especially if you’re a tourist. For instance, many Western European countries essentially just wave in U.S. citizens. Or at least they have been doing that.

What are some countries that do require visas?

Brazil, China, India and Russia require visas for U.S. visitors. The good news is that more than 170 countries do not require U.S. citizens to have a visa.

How do I know if I need one?

You go to the State Department’s website and search for the country or countries you’re going to visit.

What if I do need a visa?

Depending on the country, you may need to go to the embassy or consulate (or mail your passport to that embassy or consulate or use an online application) or ask a visa service to handle the matter for you.

But why does, say, China make me get a visa?

The short answer is visa reciprocity.

Here’s how the State Department’s website explains it: “When a foreign government imposes fees on U.S. citizens for certain types of visas, the United States will impose a reciprocal fee on citizens of that country/area of authority for similar types of visas.”

It’s a smaller variation on “eye for an eye,” appropriate because “visa” comes from the Latin for “vision.”

OK, so up until now, Americans didn’t have to have a visa to travel to France, for instance. Could that change?

It could. Whether it will depends a bit on whether the U.S. and Europe can come to an agreement.

What’s that about?

The crux of the situation is this: Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Poland and Cyprus let U.S. tourists visit their countries without a visa. But the U.S. asks that citizens from those countries obtain a visa before visiting the U.S.

Isn’t that a little unfair?

Depends on whom you ask. The U.S. State Department says those five countries have not met the standards for visa-free travel. Those standards are set by law.

But the European Union says that despite prodding, the U.S. has not made progress in lifting the visa requirement. The U.S. wasn’t the only country that blocked those five, but Australia, Japan and Brunei have backed off. Canada in December will allow travelers from those five countries in without a visa, according to European Parliament News.

But the U.S. is holding strong or stubborn, again depending on your point of view, although talks, according to both sides, are continuing.

If this isn’t resolved, I’d have to get a visa for Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Croatia and Cyprus?

Yes. But wait. There’s more. In early March, the European Union Parliament voted to make Americans get visas for travel to its countries. The vote, according to NBC News, was “non-binding.”

But it was alarming. If the U.S. does not change its policy concerning those five countries, the European Union may change its mind about allowing U.S. citizens to move freely — that is, without a visa — among its 28 countries. (Britain is still a member but leaves in 2019. Not every European nation is an EU member; Switzerland and Norway, for instance, are not members.)

Saber-rattling? Could be. But as the EU points out, this has been dragging on for three years.

Some movement is expected by the end of June as both sides try to avert what could be a huge blow to summer vacation travel as Americans take advantage of a weak euro and reasonable airfares.

Now what?

Proceed apace. There is little you can do to affect the outcome. But meanwhile, if Europe is on your vacation radar, this might be the time to make friends with a visa service just in case you need an instant ally.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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travel@latimes.com

@latimestravel

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