The border of the future:
Visiting the UK in 2021

From 1 January 2021, the UK will end free movement and both EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally under a new points-based immigration system.

Further details on the new immigration system released in July outline the new rules for working, studying and visiting the UK at the end of the transition period. The government has stated their aim to “ensure legitimate travellers who support our economy and enrich society and culture can continue to come to the UK smoothly in the future”.

In most cases, visitors will be able to come to the UK for up to six months and may enter the UK multiple times during that period, but they may not work or access public funds, and cannot effectively live in the UK by means of repeat or continuous visits.

As part of the new points-based system, the ‘border of the future’ will see a suite of changes implemented to strengthen security and move towards a fully digital end-to-end customer journey for people entering the UK.

Who can apply to visit the UK?

Citizens of all nationalities can apply to visit the UK, and must either apply for a visa before arrival or seek leave to enter at the UK border. Unless an exemption applies, visa nationals will need to apply for a visa before travelling to the UK as a visitor, and non-visa nationals may apply for leave to enter as a visitor upon arrival at the UK border.

The government has stated its intention for citizens of the EU and Switzerland to be allowed to visit the UK without a visa.

Irish citizens do not require permission to enter the UK, and there will be no change to journeys from within the Common Travel Area (CTA) to the UK from 2021, meaning people can continue to travel within this area with no routine immigration controls in place.

Electronic Travel Authorisations (ETAs)

A key change set to be introduced for people visiting the UK is a new universal ‘permission to travel’ requirement, which will be a phased programme to 2025. Under the new scheme, everyone wishing to travel to the UK, except British and Irish citizens, will need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) prior to arrival.

This requirement will apply to visitors and passengers transiting through the UK who do not need a visa for short stays or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling. The ETA system will involve a light-touch application process to allow security checks to be conducted and more informed decisions taken as to whether individuals should be allowed to travel to the UK.

Once granted, the ETA will act as the individual’s permission to travel, although all arrivals into the UK will still be required to provide a passport at the border.

From 2021, EU nationals (other than those with protected rights under the Withdrawal Agreement) will no longer be allowed to enter the UK using a national ID card and must present a passport at the border.

Smith Stone Walters expects to hear further details from the government regarding border control procedures for EU citizens following negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

What activities can I carry out whilst visiting the UK?

As well as tourism and visiting family, individuals entering the UK for up to six months on a Standard Visitor visa are permitted to carry out certain activities during their stay.

You can:

  • Take part in any of the business-related activities outlined in the Visitor Rules
  • Study for up to 30 days, as long as this is not the main reason for your visit
  • Take part in an exchange programme or educational visit (for under 18s)
  • Convert your civil partnership into a marriage
  • Pass through the UK in transit

You cannot:

  • Undertake any paid or unpaid work
  • Live in the UK for long periods of time through frequent visits
  • Access public funds
  • Marry or register a civil partnership, or give notice of marriage or civil partnership

Further details on permitted activities for UK visitors can be found in Appendix V of the Immigration Rules.

Speak to a UK immigration advisor

For expert advice on what type of visa you require for entering or visiting the UK, contact the Smith Stone Walters team today.

Our immigration consultants can provide up to date information and assistance with filing all types of visa applications, giving you peace of mind that your entry into the UK will be compliant and stress-free.

You can call us on 0208 461 6660 or email We look forward to hearing from you.

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