The introduction of the new ETA system will affect Hong Kongers travelling to the UK. Expected to be implemented by 2024, the ETA is set to replace the current programme of visa waivers. In this guide, you will learn about how the ETA system works and how it will affect Hong Kongers who wish to visit the UK.
What Is the UK ETA for Hong Kongese Citizens?
The ETA, or Electronic Travel Authorisation, is a new scheme designed to help achieve the British government’s goal of digitalising the borders. Although it is new for the UK, travellers may have experience with similar programmes that already exist in countries like the United States and Canada. It offers the British government more oversight and border control, and it makes it easier to screen out undesirable visitors who might pose a security risk.
At present, Hong Kongers wishing to visit the UK for a short period do not need a visa. Under the new system, they will need to apply for an ETA before travelling. The ETA is not a visa. Instead, it functions as a type of digital permit and gives holders permission to enter the UK.
How Does the ETA Affect Hong Kongese Travellers?
Hong Kong is on the list of 92 countries and territories that are part of the UK’s visa waiver programme. This means that citizens of Hong Kong do not require a visa to travel to the UK. When the new ETA programme is introduced, they will need an ETA before they can enter the country.
The ETA for Hong Kongese citizens grants permission for the holder to spend up to six months in the UK. It allows them to travel for a number of different reasons, which include:
• Business trips
• Short-term courses or study programmes
• Visits to friends and family
• Medical treatment
The ETA does not allow travellers to work while in the UK or stay there permanently. It does not affect the existing BN(O) programme, through which Hong Kongers can apply for residence or citizenship in the United Kingdom. Instead, it is a system designed solely for travellers who intend to spend a short period of time in the UK.
Applying for the UK ETA for Hong Kongese citizens
The ETA application process will only be available online. As the ETA is part of a totally digital programme, there are no paper-based alternatives available.
At present, information about the ETA has yet to be completely finalised. Until the system is introduced, all details that have been published about it are subject to change. However, travellers are advised to check the published list of requirements for the ETA. They will provide a general idea of what to expect. Requirements include:
• A valid biometric passport from a country on the list of eligibility. The Hong Kong SAR passport is acceptable, but a Chinese passport is not.
• A recent digital passport photo.
• Personal information — this will include data such as date of birth, employment information, contact details, etc.
• The reason for the traveller’s visit to the UK.
• Some details about the planned trip to the UK, such as address while in the country.
• Payment for the ETA application fee.
• Past information, including details of a criminal record, immigration offences and membership of proscribed groups or organisations.
The final data point is used to check for security risks. An applicant who is considered to pose a threat to the United Kingdom or its people will have their ETA application denied.
Processing the UK ETA for Hong Kongese Citizens
The ETA is expected to take up to 72 hours to process. Travellers should ensure that they leave enough time for processing before they start their journey. Carriers are expected to make an approved ETA form a condition of carriage, so travellers who cannot show a UK ETA for Hong Kongese citizens at their departure airport will not be allowed to board.
There is a processing fee that must be paid when applying for the ETA. This non-refundable fee needs to be paid in full before the application can be processed. If an ETA application is denied, applicants may appeal the decision or, if necessary, apply for a visa instead.
Travelling With the UK ETA for Hong Kongese Citizens
With an approved ETA, Hong Kongers can spend up to six months in the UK. They can move freely between the four constituent countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The ETA does not give them permission to enter the Republic of Ireland or any other European country.
Hong Kongers who wish to visit other parts of Europe as part of their trip should check the relevant entry requirements before travelling. The UK is not part of the European Union or the Schengen zone, and the EU is currently in the process of introducing its own travel authorisation system, the ETIAS, which will affect Hong Kongers who wish to visit. Hong Kong travellers are encouraged to review the UK ETA FAQ page for more details.
Hong Kongers in the UK
Hong Kong was a colony of the United Kingdom until the year 1997, and it retains strong ties to the UK. In recent years, the British government has introduced programmes to make it easier for citizens of Hong Kong to emigrate to the UK. There is a very large diaspora of Hong Kongers in the UK, with around 100,000 living there in the 2011 census. This number has grown significantly since the introduction of the new BN(O) pathway to UK citizenship, with around 140,000 people applying since 2020. London is the area of the country with the most Hong Kongers, but there are Hong Kongese communities all around the UK.
Aside from Hong Kongers who choose to settle permanently in the UK, others come to the country for a short period of time. Many come to visit friends and family who have emigrated, while others arrive for business trips or to enrol in courses of study. Around 6,000 Hong Kongers apply to study at British universities each year. Large numbers also travel to the UK simply for reasons of tourism. The UK is the most popular European travel destination for Hong Kongers, with London being the most common destination.