ETA: Electronic Travel Authorisation for the UK

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Under the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme, certain travellers, including non-visa nationals, Creative Worker Concession holders and transiters, will have to secure authorisation in advance of coming to the UK.

In this guide, we explain what the UK ETA is, who will need an ETA and how to apply. We also look at how much an ETA will cost, how long an ETA will last and the process of travelling to the UK with an ETA. Finally, we look at what happens if you are denied an ETA and highlight the risks of travelling without an ETA where one is required under the rules.

 

What is an ETA?

The ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) is the UK’s new security system under which certain visitors must be pre-screened prior to travel. Authorisation is then electronically linked to the recipient’s passport. The ETA is similar to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, also known as ESTA, used for travel to the USA.

Under the existing rules in the UK, hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals, known as non-visa nationals, are currently permitted to travel to the UK without a visa.

Once the new ETA system is fully in force, with the exception of British or Irish citizens, everyone (including children) who either enters or transits through the UK will require permission before they travel. This means that if you were previously eligible to visit the UK without a visa, and are not already legally resident in the UK, you will soon need an ETA. The rules for visa-nationals remain unchanged, with the requirement to apply for the relevant visa, such as the Standard Visitor Visa or Transit visa.

The ETA is not a visa. Under the new rules, nationals of so-called non-visa national countries will still be able to travel to the UK as visitors without needing a visa, but they will however need to secure pre-approval through ETA.

The scheme is designed to improve UK border security, providing more information about non-visa visitors. It is also hoped that advance screening will reduce the number of people denied entry on arrival in the UK, such as those with a serious criminal record or previous immigration violations, as they will not be permitted to travel.

 

Who needs an ETA?

The ETA is a new requirement being rolled out for travellers who do not need a visa to visit the UK, so-called ‘non-visa nationals’. It will give eligible individuals advance permission to travel to the UK.

Since 1 February 2024, the ETA has been open to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Jordanian nationals travelling to the UK from 22 February 2024.

The GCC comprises the following nations: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Non-visa nationals who are not from one of these countries do not yet need an ETA.

This development marks the next stage in the phased roll out of the ETA, which will apply to all visitors to the UK who do not need a visa for stays of less than six months, or who do not have a valid UK immigration status prior to travelling. The UK Government has advised it intends to extend the programme to other nationalities, potentially by 2025.

If you are a national of a relevant non-visa national country, you will need an ETA to come to the UK for a period of up to 6 months for the purposes of tourism, visiting family and friends, business trips or short-term study.

You will also need an ETA to come to the UK for a period of up to 3 months on the Creative Worker visa concession, or even to transit through the UK to another country.

Importantly, you will not need an ETA if you have any of the following:

  • a British or Irish passport
  • permission to either live, work and/or study in the UK
  • a valid visa to be able to enter the UK.

 

For those living in Ireland who are not Irish citizens, you will not need an ETA if you are legally resident in Ireland and you do not need a visa to enter the UK, provided you will be entering the UK from Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man. You will be able to prove that you live in Ireland by showing a number of different documents including, among various others, an Irish Residence Permit or an Irish driving licence, provided this document is an original, issued by the Irish government and valid at the time of travel.

 

How to apply for an ETA

To apply for an ETA, you will need to use the UK ETA app or apply online at GOV.UK. Each traveller must get their own ETA, including children and babies, although an adult can apply on behalf of family members. Having submitted an ETA application, you should get a decision within 3 working days, although you may get a quicker decision.

In some cases, it will take longer than 3 working days to receive a decision if further background and other checks are needed. As such, once the ETA requirements come into force, you should not book any travel to the UK before you have been granted an ETA.

 

How much is an ETA?

It costs £10 per applicant to apply for authorisation under the ETA scheme.

If an application is approved, you will receive an email confirmation. The successful ETA will then be linked electronically to the passport that you applied with.

If your ETA application is denied, you will not be entitled to a refund of your fee. You will also need to apply for a visa in advance of travel from the Home Office to be able to come to the UK.

 

How long does an ETA last?

Once you have been successfully granted an ETA, this will last for a maximum period of 2 years. However, if your passport expires in less than 2 years, you will need to get a new ETA. This is because your ETA is electronically linked to the passport that you applied with.

During the ETA’s 2-year validity period, or until the passport you applied with expires, whichever is sooner, you can use your ETA to make multiple visits to the UK. However, you must use the same passport to travel with, or risk being refused travel or entry to the UK. That passport must also be valid for the entire duration of your UK stay.

 

How do you travel with an ETA?

Once you are in possession of an ETA, this simply gives you advance permission to travel to the UK. This does not alter the requirement to go through passport control, using either an ePassport gate, if you are eligible, or to see a Border Force officer to enter the UK.

An ETA also does not guarantee entry to the UK, where you may still be refused permission to enter if Border Force officials are not satisfied that your intentions are genuine or that you meet the relevant requirements under the visitor rules. It is therefore important to carry with you sufficient documentation, either physical or electronic, to be able to satisfy officials of the purpose of your trip. Additionally, you should have documentary proof of where you will be staying in the UK, the funds available to you to support yourself during your stay, as well as evidence of your return flight or onward journey.

Strictly speaking, you do not need to carry a paper printout of your ETA when travelling to the UK, although it may be helpful to print the confirmation email and keep this with you.

 

Denied an ETA for the UK?

When it comes to permission to travel to the UK, the rules are strict. This means that if you are denied an ETA, where one is needed, you will instead need to apply for a suitable visa. The type of visa you will need will depend on the purpose of your trip, including:

  • a Standard Visitor visa: to visit the UK for tourism, business, a short course of study, and other permitted activities, including visiting as an academic or for medical reasons
  • a Temporary Work – Creative Worker visa: to come to the UK as a creative worker
  • a Transit visa: to transit through the UK, including where you are not going through UK border control but remaining in the airport waiting for a connecting flight.

 

Standard Visitor visa

To be eligible for a Standard Visitor visa, in the same way that you must abide by the visitor rules when travelling under an ETA, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • be genuinely seeking to come the UK for a purpose permitted under the rules
  • be able to support yourself for the duration of your stay in the UK
  • be able to pay the reasonable costs relating to your UK visit, without undertaking paid work or accessing public funds, including the cost of your return or onward journey
  • not be intending to undertake any prohibited activities during your stay in the UK
  • be intending to leave the UK at the end of your permitted stay
  • not be intending to live in the UK for extended periods of time through either frequent or successive visits, nor be trying to make the UK your main home.

Until such time that non-visa nationals can continue to travel to the UK visa-free and without an ETA, they will also need to meet these requirements when seeking entry.

 

Creative Worker visa

A Creative Worker visa is for someone coming to the UK to temporarily work in the creative industries, for example, as an actor, musician, dancer or film crew member.

To be eligible for a Creative Worker visa under the Temporary Worker route, you must have a sponsorship certificate from a licensed sponsor and the work you will be doing in the UK must relate to the work of your UK-based sponsor organisation. You must also be paid a minimum salary and have sufficient funds to support yourself on arrival in the UK.

 

UK transit visa

There are two types of Transit visa for the UK. You will need to apply for a Direct Airside Transit visa if you will be changing flights from within the UK and will not be going through border control. If you are going through border control but then leaving the UK within a period of 48 hours, you will instead need to apply for a Visitor in Transit visa.

You will also need a Visitor in Transit visa if you need to frequently pass through the UK over a period of more than 6 months, although if you are staying in the UK at any one time for a period of more than 48 hours, you will need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa.

To apply for either a Direct Airside Transit visa or a Visitor in Transit visa, you will need a current passport or other valid travel document. You may be asked to prove that your onward journey to your destination country is booked or confirmed, such as a flight booking email, or a copy of your ticket or boarding pass. Further, if you are not a national of your destination country, you may need to provide evidence that you are allowed to enter that country, such as a residence permit, green card or valid visa. You may also need to explain why you are travelling there, providing details of where you will be staying.

 

Travelling to the UK without an ETA

If you attempt to travel to the UK without a valid ETA, where one is required in due course, it is likely that you will not be permitted to board a UK-bound carrier. This essentially means that if you are travelling to the UK, for example, by air, you will be prohibited from boarding your flight. Additionally, even if you are allowed to board your flight, you may then be refused entry on arrival by UK Border Officials.

It is also worth noting that an ETA will not replace the requirement for a visa where one is currently needed, for example, for the purposes of paid employment or long-term study. This means that if you travel to the UK on an ETA for a reason other than one permitted under the visitor rules, you may again be refused entry in the event that Border Officials suspect that you are fraudulently using an ETA to gain entry to the UK on an unlawful basis.

 

UK ETA FAQs

What does ETA mean?

Similar to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) in the United States, ETA is an acronym for “Electronic Travel Authorisation” and is designed to screen certain 'non-visa' national visitors prior to travel to the UK.

What is the ETA for the UK?

The ETA is the UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorisation system, which pre-screens certain visitors to the UK via an online application before they travel.

Do I need an ETA for the UK in 2024?

As at March 2024, the ETA is open only to nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Jordan, but a phased roll out until 2025 is in place which is expected to cover all so-called 'non-visa' nationals who would not typically need a visa to visit the UK.

Who needs an ETA for UK?

As at April 2024, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Jordanian nationals require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) to visit the UK, with more nationalities being added to the ETA scheme later.

What is the ETA requirement?

The ETA, or system for Electronic Travel Authorisation, is a new security system being introduced in the UK for non-visa nationals to be screened prior to travel. This is similar to America’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Last updated: 2 April 2024

Author

Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

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