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Will I need Electronic Travel Authorisation to enter the UK?

Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) has been on the government’s agenda for some time. Finally, in the March 2023 Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules HC 1160, the long-awaited Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme was announced. This post explains what ETA is, who needs an ETA, and how to apply. It will continue to be updated as the Home Office release more information over the next few months.

What is the ETA scheme?

Visitors and those transiting through the UK who do not currently need a visa for short stays, or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling, will soon be required to obtain an ETA to enter the UK.

For those familiar with travel to the United States, it is broadly equivalent to their Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) system: a fairly simple and cheap application made before travel in order to notify the government of your details and enable them to conduct security checks on you before you arrive.

A person who needs an ETA and does not have one will be refused boarding by the airline or, if that does not happen for some reason, will be refused entry on arrival.

If you are a national of certain countries (see the section below), you will need an ETA if you intend to do one or more of the following:

  • Enter and stay in the UK for up to six months as a tourist, including as a business visitor or if you are studying
  • Enter and stay in the UK for up to three months if you are on the Creative Worker visa concession
  • Transiting through the UK, even if you do not need to go through UK border control

You can enter the UK as many times as you like with a valid ETA. You do not need to apply for a new ETA each time you travel.

When does the scheme begin and who is it for?

The ETA scheme is due to begin in autumn this year and is expected to be in place for all non-visa countries by the end of 2024.

The scheme is being launched for a few countries only, at this stage. From 15 November 2023, nationals of Qatar will need an ETA to enter the UK. They can submit an application for an ETA from 25 October 2023.

Currently, from 22 February 2024, nationals from the following list of countries will also need an ETA if they are travelling to the UK:

  • Bahrain
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates.

More countries are due to be added to the scheme throughout 2024.

The Home Office are continuously amending their timings, countries and dates as they role out the ETA scheme for the first time so we recommend you continue to check the Home Office website. We will continue to update this post with the latest information as it is published.   

Who does not need an ETA?

You will not need an ETA if you have a British or Irish passport. You will also not require an ETA if you already have permission to live, work or study in the UK, or a valid visit visa.

For a long time there was a fear that residents of Ireland that do not need a visa to be there would need to apply for an ETA. Thankfully, they do not. This is a really significant development that protects the Common Travel Area and the rights of non-visa nationals, particularly in the border communities in Ireland.

You will also not need an ETA if you are legally resident in and entering the UK from Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man.

How do I make an application for an ETA?

Applications can be made using the UK ETA app, or online. Currently, the UK ETA app is not yet available and the online forms will become visible from 25 October 2023. At that time, the link to the application form, and instructions to download the app should be available here.

It costs £10 per person to make the application.

Getting a decision

A decision should be made within three working days of submitting your application.

Your ETA will be issued electronically and you will receive an email to confirm that your application has been approved. Presumably, this will look a lot like the online immigration status that non-visa nationals obtain these days, instead of a BRP card, when making more long-term applications to enter or remain in the UK.

Your ETA should be linked to your passport. It is valid for a period of two years or until the expiry of your passport. You must therefore use the same passport to travel to the UK.

What if my ETA application is refused?

If you are refused an ETA, but you still want or need to travel to the UK, you will need to apply for a visitor or transit visa in the alternative.  

If you applied for an ETA as a Creative Worker visa concession, you will need to make an application for a Temporary Work – Creative Worker visa instead.

Why do we need Electronic Travel Authorisation?

Visitors and transit passengers who do not currently need a visa for short stays, or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling, will be required to obtain an ETA as an additional security measure.

In a statement to the Home of Commons on 9 March 2023, immigration minister Robert Jenrick explained that one of the government’s ongoing priorities is securing the UK’s borders and keeping people safe. Part of this initiative is to make sure that everyone wishing to travel to the UK has permission to do so, and the ETA scheme aims to plug any gaps. The Home Office even published a news story about the scheme, framing it as a way to “bolster the border”.

The scheme is similar to the ESTA scheme for the United States. In the EU, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and the EU Entry/Exit System (EES) are also scheduled to open later this year, though delays are possible. It will soon be commonplace to have obtained authorisation to travel to a number of countries worldwide, not just the UK.

This post will continue to be updated as more information about the application process is released.

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