What we know so far
about the UK's new
ETA scheme

Later this year, the UK is due to roll out the first phase of its much anticipated Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme. The ETA is a digital ‘permission to travel’ scheme, which is being introduced to help strengthen the security of the UK border and to improve travel.

Broadly, the ETA is for visitors who do not need a visa for short stays to the UK, or who do not already have a UK immigration status prior to travelling.

It will work in a similar way to schemes already in place in other countries such as the United States’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and Australia’s Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). The European Union (EU) is also set to launch a similar scheme in the form of the Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), although its launch has been subject to delays.

The ETA scheme is being rolled out in phases, with the first phase set to launch in October 2023. By the end of 2024, the scheme will be a requirement worldwide for visitors who do not need a visa for short stays, including those visiting from Europe.

Non-visa nationals should be aware of this forthcoming requirement and how it may impact future travel to the UK. Full details of the scheme are yet to be released, but the Home Office has already provided some basic information on how the scheme will operate. Below is a brief overview of what we know so far about the ETA scheme.

Why is the ETA being introduced?

The ETA scheme is being introduced as part of a wider set of reforms to streamline and digitalise the UK’s border and legal migration system whilst enhancing the security of the UK.

The ETA will help improve UK border security by allowing the government to make the necessary security checks on travellers before they arrive in the UK. Those applying for an ETA will provide their biographic, biometric and contact details, and answer a short set of suitability questions. This will increase the government’s knowledge about those seeking to come to the UK and prevent the arrival of those who present a threat.

Who will need to apply for an ETA?

The ETA is for visa-exempt travellers, otherwise known as non-visa nationals. Non-visa nationals are foreign citizens who can enter the UK for short stays without requiring a visa. If you are unsure whether you need a visa for short stays in the UK, you can use the Home Office ‘check if you need a UK visa’ tool here.

The scheme will launch for Qatari nationals from 25 October 2023. From 1 February 2024, the scheme will be introduced for nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It is anticipated that the ETA will be fully functional for all applicable nationals by the end of 2024.

What is the application process?

Eligible individuals will be able to apply for an ETA online, either using the ‘UK ETA app’ or by searching for ‘Apply for an ETA to come to the UK’ on the gov.uk website.

To apply for an ETA, individuals will need to:

  • Pay a fee
  • Provide contact and passport details
  • Provide a valid photo
  • Answer a set of questions

The application process will be quick and light-touch. Most applicants will receive a response within three working days, with many receiving a result sooner.

How much will an ETA cost?

The exact cost of an ETA has not yet been announced, but the Home Office has stated that the fee will be ‘competitive’ and comparable with similar schemes in operation worldwide such as the United States and Australia.

Can an ETA be used for multiple journeys?

Yes. Once approved, an ETA will be valid for multiple journeys over a two-year period or until the passport the individual used to apply with expires, whichever is sooner.

What will happen if an application for an ETA is refused?

If an individual’s ETA application is refused they will need to apply for a visa if they wish to seek permission come to the UK.

How will the scheme work in the context of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border? 

The Common Travel Area facilitates movement of people between the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies and Ireland.

As is the case now, the UK will not operate routine immigration controls on journeys from within the Common Travel Area, with no immigration controls whatsoever on the Ireland-Northern Ireland land border.

All individuals arriving in the UK, including those crossing the land border into Northern Ireland, will continue to need to enter in line with the UK’s immigration framework, including the need to obtain an ETA if required.

Those who are legally resident in Ireland and from a nationality that does not usually require a visa to visit the UK, will not be required to obtain an ETA when travelling to the UK from within the CTA. Non-Irish residents of Ireland who are travelling to the UK from outside of the CTA will require an ETA before travel.

Once granted, an ETA will be valid for multiple journeys over an extended period, including those across the Ireland-Northern Ireland border whilst protecting the Common Travel Area from abuse.

Will Electronic Visa Waivers still be valid?

ETAs will replace Electronic Visa Waivers (EVWs), which currently require visitors to the UK from Gulf Cooperation Council states to pay a higher cost for a single-use visit. ETAs will improve on this offer, being cheaper and multi-use over a two-year period.

Qatari visitors will need an ETA to travel to the UK from 15 November 2023, but can apply in advance from 25 October 2023. Before 15 November 2023, they will continue to require an EVW to travel to the UK.

Visitors from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates will need an ETA to travel to the UK from 22 February 2024, but can apply in advance from 1 February 2024. Before 22 February 2024, they will continue to require an EVW to travel to the UK.

Keep up to date with UK immigration news

Smith Stone Walters will continue to monitor the progress of the ETA’s rollout, and will provide further updates in due course. To keep up to date with all the latest UK and global immigration news, please sign up to our free news service.

Or to discuss a specific immigration enquiry with one of our qualified advisors, please contact us today.

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