When the new ETA system comes into effect, it will change the process of travelling to the UK for many visitors, with Bulgarian citizens among them. From 2024 onwards, Bulgarians will need to apply for the ETA before they can enter the country. This guide explains the ETA scheme, how it works, how to apply for it and how it will affect Bulgarians who want to travel to the UK.
What Is the UK ETA for Bulgarian Citizens?
The ETA, which stands for Electronic Travel Authorisation, is based on similar programmes that already exist in other countries. In particular, it is inspired by the Canadian ETA and United States ESTA. The ETA is designed to give the British government greater oversight over people coming to the country and to make it easier to screen out security risks. It forms an integral part of a larger initiative to digitalise the borders of the United Kingdom.
Bulgarian citizens do not need a visa to travel to the UK for a short period of time. This will not change: the ETA is not a visa and has a much simpler, faster application process. It serves as a digital travel permit. When a traveller is issued a UK ETA for Bulgarian citizens, they are granted permission to enter the United Kingdom.
How Does the ETA Affect Bulgarian Travellers?
The UK has a list of 92 countries that form part of its visa waiver programmes. Citizens of these countries do not require a visa to enter the UK. They are the travellers who will need to apply for the ETA when the new scheme comes into effect. As an EU member state, Bulgaria is on the list.
Some Bulgarians require a visa for the United Kingdom, including anyone who plans to stay there for more than six months or live there permanently. Additionally, any Bulgarians who want to work in the UK — even if they only intend to stay there temporarily — will need to apply for a visa. The visa application process is separate from the ETA.
Bulgarians who plan to spend less than six months in the United Kingdom will not need a visa but will instead need an approved ETA. There are a number of reasons why Bulgarians may choose to travel to the UK, and applying for an ETA will now be a part of the process. These reasons may include the following:
• Business trips
• Short-term courses or study programmes
• Visits to friends and family
• Medical treatment
Applying for the UK ETA for Bulgarian Citizens
At present, some information about the upcoming ETA system has been released. This information is subject to change as the programme is finalised. It provides travellers with an idea of what they can expect when the ETA system is fully introduced.
The ETA application form is an online form. Travellers will not be able to apply in any other way, as the ETA is part of a completely digital system.
Before travelling, applicants are advised to look at the list of requirements for the ETA. This will help them prepare for the application form and make sure they have everything they need. Some of the ETA programme requirements include the following:
• A valid biometric passport from a country on the list of eligibility. Bulgaria is on this list.
• 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.
In addition to this personal information, applicants will need to disclose if they have a criminal record, whether they have ever been a member of a proscribed group or organisation, and if they have committed any immigration offences in the past. This data will be used to check for potential security risks. Travellers who pose a threat to the United Kingdom will have their ETA application denied.
Processing the UK ETA for Bulgarian Citizens
When applying for an ETA, applicants will need to pay a non-refundable fee. This can be paid online and must be paid in full before the application can be processed.
It is expected that the ETA will take up to 72 hours to process. Travellers should take this processing time into account when planning their journey to the United Kingdom. Carriers are likely to make an approved ETA a condition of carriage. This means that a passenger who is unable to show a UK ETA for Bulgarian citizens at their departure airport will not be allowed to travel.
Travellers will need to show their ETA once again when they enter the UK and pass through border control. Travellers entering the UK through other methods of transport, such as the Channel Tunnel from France, will also need to show an ETA before they are allowed into the country. Travellers whose ETA application is denied can appeal the decision. If they are unsuccessful, they might be able to apply for a visa to enter the UK, but this is a longer and more complicated process.
Travelling With the UK ETA for Bulgarian Citizens
Once a Bulgarian has been issued with an ETA, they can travel freely around the United Kingdom. There is no internal border control separating England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, meaning visitors can move between these four constituent countries as they wish. Bulgarian travellers are encouraged to review the UK ETA FAQ page for more details.
Bulgarians in the United Kingdom
As there are around 100,000 Bulgarians living in the UK, many Bulgarians come to the country to visit friends and family members who have settled there. The largest Bulgarian community in the UK is based in the capital city of London, which is also the most popular destination for tourists. In addition to visiting friends and family, Bulgarian travellers to the UK might be coming to study or just enjoy a short holiday.