The UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme is opening in 2023, as part of the government’s new universal “permission to travel” requirement.
Under the new scheme, certain travellers, including non-visa nationals and Creative Worker visa holders, travelling to the UK will have to secure authorisation in advance of travel by completing an online form and paying the application fee.
What is the UK ETA?
The ETA forms part of a wider agenda to digitise the United Kingdom’s borders by 2025. According to the New Plan for Immigration, the Home Office will change border crossings by enhancing security, the passenger experience, and wait times. The use of automation will also be increased to improve the management of passenger flow and border interventions.
Under current rules, certain categories of travellers visiting the United Kingdom do not require a visa for short stays or other specified types of immigration status. In these cases, UK border control and law enforcement officials have less information and time to determine if an individual poses a threat prior to their arrival.
How does the UK ETA work?
The UK ETA scheme will be similar to those already in effect in the US (ESTA) and Canada (eTA). The EU is also planning to introduce ETIAS, its own pre-travel authorisation programme.
The new universal “permission to travel” requirement, introduced via the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 Bill, means all travellers to the United Kingdom (other than British and Irish residents) who are visiting the UK or transiting through the UK and who do not currently require a visa for short stays (known as “non-visa nationals”) or who do not have a pre-existing immigration status, will need to apply for, and be granted, permission in advance.
Individuals who qualify will receive a digital travel authorisation to enter the United Kingdom. Through this initiative, the UK government intends to tighten security checks before an individual’s arrival, which should also result in a more streamlined entry process for all travellers at the UK border.
Airlines will be required to verify that travellers have a valid ETA prior to entering the UK. Passengers will need to present documentary proof of their approved ETA to their carrier prior to travel, either in paper or digital form.
The Home Office will utilise interactive “advance passenger information” (API) to determine whether an individual has the necessary permission to come to the UK and will notify the airline of the status of travellers prior to flying.
Who needs ETA to enter the United Kingdom?
An ETA will not be required by British or Irish citizens or anyone with lawful permission to enter or remain in the United Kingdom.
Anyone intending to enter the United Kingdom for transit purposes or as visitors for tourism, business, short-term study, or medical treatment will need an ETA. Also, individuals using the Creative Worker route for a short stay will also need to have an ETA.
When does the UK ETA come into effect?
The ETA will be rolled out in phases from 2023.
The initial phase will apply to nationals of Qatar from 15 November 2023.
From 15 February 2024, the ETA scheme will apply to nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
More countries are expected to be added to the scheme at a later date.
How to apply for the UK ETA
Travellers will apply for the ETA using the UK ETA app or website.
The application is expected to take less than 15 minutes to complete. Applicants are likely to be asked to provide personal and contact details to verify their identity and suitability to travel to the UK, and to provide proof of a valid national biometric passport issued by a qualifying nation, a valid email address, credit or debit card details, and details of any planned travel. Applicants will likely also need to submit their biometric information.
The information will then be evaluated against Home Office data to determine if the individual qualifies to travel to the United Kingdom.
How long will ETA applications take to process?
ETA applications are expected to be processed within three working days.
If your ETA is approved
If approved, the ETA will be issued electronically, and linked to the traveller’s passport.
What if your ETA is refused?
When an application is refused, the individual will need to apply to the UK Home Office for an appropriate visa, such as a visitor transit visa, or Temporary Work – Creative Worker visa.
How much is a UK ETA?
The Home Office has yet to disclose the fee for the ETA, but it is expected to be at a similar level to similar schemes in the US and Canada.
How long is the UK ETA valid for?
The ETA will be valid for two years or until the traveller’s passport expires, whichever is soonest.
What happens if I don’t have a UK ETA?
Travellers without a valid ETA may be subject to a penalty charge.
Is the ETA a visa?
The ETA is not a visa. ETA is a digital authorisation that permits an individual to board a flight to the United Kingdom. A person will still be required to request entry permission upon arrival at the UK border, as is the case currently.
Last updated: 10 March 2023