Travellers jetting off to the United Kingdom in the near future will soon face a very different entry process, with the island nation primed to roll out an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme from the first quarter of this year.
Following a similar approach to the United States’ ESTA and Canada’s eTA, the UK ETA will require visa-exempt travellers (excluding British and Irish citizens) to apply for permission to travel in advance of their trip, simply by filling out a brief online form and paying a fee.
Britain’s Home Secretary previously described this ‘permission to enter’ scheme, introduced via the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 bill, as making it “easier for our friends to come to and contribute to the UK, but harder for those we do not want to come here”.
The European Union is introducing its own version too, known as ETIAS, later this year.
Although a departure from the current process, it’s actually rather straightforward.
How does the UK ETA work?
Prior to travel, passengers from approved countries will need to complete an online application form which covers various details such as contact information, biometric data and travel plans, in addition to some simple eligibility questions.
Responses are then checked against a variety of security databases and, if the application is successful, the traveller should receive their ETA within 48 to 72 hours.
On arrival, the border process remains unchanged, with passengers still required to line up at immigration. However, with travellers having already been vetted prior to travel, it’s hoped the new ETA will speed up the process significantly.
It’s worth noting the ETA is not a visa; it merely authorises individuals to board a carrier and travel to the UK.
When does the UK ETA come into effect?
A phased rollout of the UK Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme begins in the first quarter of 2023, with the Home Office claiming the program will be fully in place by the end of 2024.
The rollout will follow the below schedule:
- Q1 First Release: private beta testing phase
- Late Q1 to early Q3 Second Release: Qatar Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia
- Late Q2 onwards: Rest of the World
Who can apply for the UK ETA?
Full details are yet to be revealed, but it’s expected the list of countries eligible for a British ETA will be in line with the nation’s existing visa exemption list. That includes arrivals from countries in the EU, along with Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
How to apply for the UK ETA
Once the ETA program is released to the general public, travellers will need to apply for an ETA by visiting the Visa & Immigration page of the official Government website: Gov.uk
How much is a UK ETA?
The British Home Office says full details of the scheme, including how much an ETA costs, will be announced “in due course”. Similar schemes around the world give us an idea of what to expect though:
- Canada’s eTA is CAD$7 (AUD$7.50)
- The European Union’s ETIAS will cost €7 (AUD$11)
- The United States’ ESTA is USD$21 (AUD$29)
How long is the UK ETA valid for?
The validity period of a UK ETA is expected to be revealed soon. However, looking to other countries with similar schemes for guidance, it should be between two to three years.
What happens if I don’t have a UK ETA?
Travellers will need to provide proof of an approved ETA to their carrier prior to travel, either in printed or digital form. The Home Office says it will alert carriers to the status of passengers before travel.
If a passenger arrives without an ETA, they may face a penalty charge.
Does the ETA replace a visa?
No, the UK Electronic Travel Authorisation applies to short stays of up to six months for tourism and business purposes only and does not replace a visa.
Those visiting for other purposes, such as living or working in the UK, still need to apply for an appropriate visa.