New requirements for entering the UK starting soon

September 14, 2023
UK citizens As of January 2009, citizens of 40 countries must register for the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before arriving. Mandated in the years after 9/11, ESTA is an automated system that determines a traveler's eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). However, the United States is not the first country to require electronic travel permits; the first was Australia, in 1996. Other countries that require some form of authorization before travel include Canada (US citizens are exempt), Ivory Coast, South Korea, Sri Lanka and New Zealand , among other countries. For about half a decade, U.S.-based travelers and other travelers have been hearing about the upcoming ETIAS visa waiver. This is an electronic authorization system provided by the European Union for visa-free travelers traveling to the European Union or the Schengen area, as well as Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania. First announced in 2018, ETIAS has been delayed several times and is now expected to begin operations in 2024. However, ETIAS is not the only new electronic travel authorization system being implemented. A few years after the ETIAS announcement, the UK has issued a statement regarding its own programme, ETA, scheduled to begin this November. After a 51.9% vote in favor of Brexit, the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union on January 31, 2020. Although still part of Europe, it is no longer part of the EU. ETIAS therefore has nothing to do with the UK (in fact, UK citizens will need to apply for ETIAS, like everyone else, when it comes 'online'). So, in 2022, the British government's Home Office (the minister responsible for immigration, security and public order) began working on an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization). From UK Parliament’s House of Commons Library: Electronic travel authorisations: what’s the ETA?
By the end of 2024, people who do not need a visa to enter the United Kingdom will need to have an electronic travel authorisation, or ETA, before they visit. These ‘non-visa nationals’, including EU and US citizens, can currently travel to the UK without a visa if visiting for up to six months. The new system, introduced by the Home Office, will require visitors to apply and pay for the ETA before travel. As a result, some kind of advance permission to travel – either an ETA or a visa – will be mandatory for all travellers to the UK, except British and Irish citizens. Similar schemes exist in other countries and the EU is setting up its own version. The Government says the scheme will improve border security because it will have more information about non-visa visitors and more time to screen them. Advance screening will, according to the Home Office, reduce the number of people denied entry at the border (for example, if they have a criminal record) as they will not be permitted to travel in the first place.
Once the ETA comes into effect, potential travelers to the UK will register online or via an app on their mobile phone. The form will ask for a photo, biographical and contact information, passport details and answers to questions about criminal convictions and immigration history (they will eventually also want to include fingerprint when this technology is available through the application).

How to apply

You’ll need to apply on the UK ETA app, or online on GOV.UK. You can apply on behalf of others. Each traveler must get their own ETA, including children and babies. You’ll usually get a decision within 3 working days, but you may get a quicker decision. That being said, it may take longer than 3 working days if they need to make further checks. People could be refused an ETA because of past convictions or if they’ve ever overstayed a visa. The ETA itself won’t be a physical document. Instead, it’ll be a digital record linked to the person’s passport and confirmed by email. Carriers, such as airlines, will also be notified electronically that the person has permission to travel to the U.K. An ETA will cost £10 (about $12.49) per applicant. Once you have it, your ETA will last for 2 years. If your passport expires in less than 2 years, you’ll need to get a new ETA.

Who will need an ETA?

The program is set to begin in mid-November. However, it’s going to begin slowly, on this time schedule:

If you’re a national of Qatar

You’ll need an ETA if you’re traveling to the UK on or after November 15, 2023. You’ll be able to apply from October 25th onward.

If you’re a national of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates

You’ll need an ETA if you’re traveling to the UK on or after February 22, 2024. You’ll be able to apply from February 1st onward.

If you’re a national of another country (including United States)

You do not need to apply for an ETA now. More nationalities will be added to the list at a later date. A few groups of people will not need to apply for ETA before traveling to or through the UK:

Who will not need an ETA?

You will not need an ETA if you have either:
  • a British or Irish passport
  • permission to live, work or study in the UK
  • a visa to enter the UK

If you live in Ireland and you’re not an Irish citizen

You will not need an ETA if all of the following apply:
  • you’re legally a resident in Ireland
  • you do not need a visa to enter the UK
  • you’re entering the UK from Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man
After UK citizens having to get an ESTA before being vetted by the US, it’s not surprising that the UK (or those behind ETIAS, to be honest) are beginning their own respective programs. As long as you have nothing nefarious in your history, it sounds as if you’ll only be out a little time and a little money, and you’ll be approved.