British Citizens and UK ETA

| May 10, 2023
British Citizens and UK ETA

European travel requirements are in the process of changing both across Europe and in the United Kingdom. The European Union is currently rolling out its electronic pre-travel screening programme called ETIAS and this will soon become a mandatory requirement for British citizens wishing to visit any of the European Union or Schengen member countries.

The United Kingdom is following suit and is currently developing its own system for pre-screening foreign visitors to any of the UK’s four member countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The new system is called the United Kingdom Electronic Travel Authorisation or UK ETA short.

What is the UK ETA?

Similar to other systems like the American ESTA, Canada’s eTA, and Europe’s ETIAS, the UK ETA is a means of screening foreign nationals who wish to enter any of the four United Kingdom countries. The UK ETA is not a visa but is a form of visa waiver. This means that foreign nationals who are eligible for the scheme will be permitted to enter the UK once they have UK ETA approval. There will be no requirement for these visitors to possess any form of visa.

The stated purpose of the UK ETA is to strengthen UK border security and reduce the risks of criminals or terrorists entering the jurisdiction. The application process is designed to obtain as much background information about the applicant as possible. Basic personal details will be required, as will information regarding any previous convictions or history of travel to countries of war and conflict.
Applying for the UK ETA is done entirely online, either on a computer or via a mobile app. Both of these application methods are still under construction and testing but are expected to be running by late 2023, when a first trial run is expected.

Once the application is submitted and paid for, it is expected that approval should be granted in less than three days. Applicants are advised to submit applications well before this three-day processing time to allow for possible errors or delays.

Who Will Require a UK ETA?

Set to be phased into operation during 2023 and mandatory in 2024, ETIAS ensures that unwanted criminal and terrorist elements will be prevented from entering the European arena. The UK ETA will perform the same functions as ETIAS and protect the four United Kingdom countries from terrorist or criminal activity and help reduce illegal immigration.

When the United Kingdom was a member of the European Union, British citizens enjoyed visa-free access to all EU and Schengen Area countries. Following Brexit, an agreement was reached whereby this privilege would remain in place for a transitional period. This period of time is shortly coming to an end. When this happens, British citizens will then be required to apply for (and receive) an ETIAS before any European travel can be undertaken.

ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) will be a mandatory requirement for citizens of all countries currently enjoying visa-free European access. The list of visa-exempt countries includes the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and (presently) the United Kingdom.

The UK, like the EU, currently allows citizens of certain countries to enter its territories without a visa but is now following the European example of pre-screening intending foreign visitors. This will mean that citizens of these visa-exempt countries will soon be required to possess a UK ETA before travelling to the United Kingdom.

The list of countries whose citizens will require a UK ETA includes the following:

  • All 27 current European Union members
  • All Schengen Area member states
  • The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan
  • All countries in the Middle East

*This is not a complete listing, as other countries are still being added regularly.
In short, citizens of any country can currently travel to the United Kingdom with no visa requirement. It is also envisaged that even citizens of countries who currently require a visa to visit the UK will also be brought into the UK ETA scheme.

Once granted, the UK ETA allows the holder to enter and leave the United Kingdom on multiple occasions. It is valid for a period of two years, when it must be renewed using the same application procedure. Two things to note, however, are:

  1. The UK ETA expires with the linked passport, so it is important to ensure the passport has an expiration date beyond that of the UK ETA. Although the UK ETA will be a mandatory requirement to visit the United Kingdom, it does not automatically guarantee the holder entry. This decision rests entirely at the discretion of the border security agents on duty, who may refuse entry to a visitor if they have suspicions or doubts about the suitability of the holder.
  2. As with a Schengen Visa, the UK ETA allows the holder to remain within the United Kingdom for a maximum period of 90 days for vacation, study or business purposes but does not grant the holder the right to work or remain indefinitely within the jurisdiction.
    Middle East Introduction.

The UK ETA scheme is already well advanced, and the British authorities plan on introducing a limited test roll-out towards the end of 2023. This first phase will only affect nationals of Qatar, with the purpose of the exercise being to identify any bugs or flaws in the system.

Assuming all goes well, the scheme will be expanded in early 2024 to include other Middle East countries:

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

Citizens of these Middle East countries currently avail of a single-use EVW (Electronic Visa Waiver) rather than a UK visa which is valid for six months and costs €34.30 (£30). The new UK ETA system will have the advantages of being both cheaper and lasting longer as the UK ETA is valid for a period of two years and is expected to cost about the same as an ETIAS, which is €7 (£6.15). However, this has yet to be confirmed.

Barring any unforeseen problems or system failures, the UK ETA will be rolled out through 2024 across the world before becoming a mandatory requirement by the end of the year.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are (or will be) very few exceptions to the UK ETA mandate. Countries and territories whose citizens will not require a UK ETA are:

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland
  • Republic of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland is excluded from the UK ETA requirement because the UK and Ireland have operated a Common Travel Area (CTA) arrangement for a number of years. Under this agreement, Irish and British citizens have the right to travel freely, work, and reside in either jurisdiction. The CTA also applies to the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.

Apart from holders of British or Irish passports, the only exceptions to the UK ETA scheme are residents in a UK country who have been granted “settled status” or have official permission to study, work or reside in the United Kingdom.