The ETA programme, the UK’s new digital travel permit system, is set to be introduced by the year 2024. After it comes into effect, Saudi travellers will need to apply for an ETA before they can enter the UK. In this guide, you’ll learn what the ETA is, how the new system will work and how to apply for an ETA.
What Is the UK ETA for Saudi Citizens?
Around the world, digital travel permits are becoming more common, with different countries developing their own systems. Perhaps the most famous programmes are the ESTA in the United States and the ETA in Canada, but there are many other countries that have adopted digital travel permits. In the UK, the ETA, or Electronic Travel Authorisation, is set to be introduced by the year 2024. Like the systems in other countries, this will give the government greater oversight over people entering the country, allowing stronger border security.
The ETA forms part of the UK government’s wider goal of digitalising the border. It will replace the current visa waiver programme. When a traveller’s ETA application is approved, they will be allowed to enter the UK and spend up to six months in the country. It is not a visa, and the application process is much faster and simpler than a visa application.
How Will Saudi Travellers Be Affected?
The UK has visa waiver agreements with 92 countries. Saudi Arabia is one of the countries on this list, which means that Saudis do not need to apply for a visa to enter the UK. All they need is their passport, with no additional paperwork. This will change when the ETA comes into effect. Saudis will still not need a visa to visit, but they will have to apply for an ETA before they enter the UK.
The UK is a popular destination for Saudi travellers, who come for a variety of reasons. Among these reasons are:
• Business trips
• Courses of study
• Visiting friends and family
• Medical treatment
All travellers who want to spend less than six months in the UK, and do not intend to work in the country, will need to apply for the UK ETA for Saudi citizens. There will be a single application form for all applicants to complete, regardless of their reason for travelling.
Saudi travellers who need a visa for the UK will be unaffected by the new ETA system. They will still need to obtain a visa before they travel. Saudis who require a visa include people who want to work in the UK, those who are planning to spend more than six months in the country and those who intend to settle there permanently. The visa system is not changing, and the application process will remain as it is at present.
Applying for the UK ETA for Saudi Citizens
Saudi travellers will need to apply for the ETA using an online form. The ETA programme is designed to be completely digital, so there will be no offline alternatives. As part of the process, applicants will also need to pay a non-refundable fee. This can be paid online using a debit or credit card.
While preparing for their journey, Saudis are advised to consult the published list of ETA requirements. Until the programme is finalised, this information is subject to change, and some details — such as the cost of the ETA application fee — have not yet been confirmed. Nevertheless, the information on this list gives travellers a good idea of what the form will be like and allows them to prepare accordingly. Some of the requirements include the following:
• A valid biometric passport issued by one of the countries on the eligibility list.
• A recent digital passport photo.
• Pversonal information. This will include data such as date of birth, employment information, contact details, etc.
• The purpose of the traveller’s visit to the UK.
• Details about the planned trip to the UK, such as address while in the country.
• A debit or credit card for the ETA application fee.
• Disclosure of a criminal record, past immigration offences, and membership (past or present) of any proscribed groups or organisations.
The final point on this list is included to help achieve the ETA aim of improving border safety in the UK. Travellers who are deemed to pose a threat to the security of the UK — or its citizens — will have their ETA application denied. This could include applicants with ties to terrorism, organised crime or gangs.
Applicants should take care to complete the form correctly. Only when the form has been completed, and the fee has been paid in full will it be processed.
Processing the UK ETA for Saudi Citizens
In many other countries with digital travel permits, an approved permit has become a condition of carriage. This is expected to take place in the UK, too. As a result, travellers will need to ensure that their application is completed with plenty of time to spare, allowing enough time for it to be processed and approved before they reach the boarding gate at their departure airport.
The ETA is expected to take up to 72 hours of processing time. If it is approved, travellers will not need any further documentation to travel to the UK. They will need to show their UK ETA for Saudi citizens at their departure airport and once more when they arrive in the UK and pass through border control.
If an ETA application is denied, travellers will be able to appeal the decision. Even if the appeal fails, they still have the option of applying for a visa. This is a longer and more complicated process and cannot be completed with the ease of an online form like the ETA.
Travelling With the UK ETA for Saudi Citizens
When a Saudi traveller is issued an ETA, they can spend up to six months in the UK, although they cannot work while in the country. They will be able to move freely between the UK’s four constituent countries, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, they should take care if they intend to cross the UK’s only land border into the Republic of Ireland. It is an independent country, and the ETA has no validity there.
Saudis who want to visit other European countries, as well as the UK, will need to look into the relevant entry requirements. The UK is not part of the Schengen common travel zone or the European Union. The ETIAS, the EU’s own digital travel permit scheme, is expected to come into effect in 2023 and may affect Saudis planning to travel to EU countries.