UK ETA for US citizens: everything travellers need to know

UK ETA for American citizens: important information

From 2024, American citizens who are planning a trip to the UK will need to go through the country’s new ETA programme. This new electronic travel permit, introduced in an effort to fully digitalise the UK’s borders, will soon be mandatory for all travellers. This includes American citizens, who presently do not need a visa to travel to the UK. When the new system is in place, all visitors (except those holding British or Irish passports) will be expected to acquire an ETA before they begin their journey.

What is the UK ETA for American citizens?

ETA stands for Electronic Travel Authorisation. It is an electronic travel permit that is being introduced for security purposes, introducing an official process for all visitors to the UK. The ETA is not just for tourists: travellers will need one if they are visiting the UK for any reason, including business, studying or medical treatment.

An ETA will be necessary for all travellers entering the UK, whether arriving on a flight, as part of a cruise or through the rail tunnel connecting Britain with France. Once a traveller has obtained an ETA, they will be able to enter the UK, visit any part of the country they wish to, and stay for up to 6 months.

The changes to the system

Under the current system, most American citizens do not require a visa to enter the UK if they stay for less than six months. This is true for tourists, students and business travellers. From early 2024, all these travellers will need an ETA before entering the country.

Before the launch of the ETA programme, American travellers staying for more than six months or planning to work while in the UK required a visa to enter the UK. The ETA programme will not change anything for these travellers. They will still need a visa.

Acquiring a UK ETA for US citizens

Travellers must apply for an ETA online before departure. Sufficient time should be allowed for the application to be processed. It is expected that the processing time could take up to 72 hours, so travellers are advised to make their application some days in advance. The application will have a processing fee.

The UK ETA application takes place through an online form. Via the form, travellers must provide information about their plans and prove that they are eligible for an ETA. To acquire an ETA, the following information is required:

A valid biometric passport.
Travel plans, including the reason for travelling to the UK.
Contact details, such as name, address, phone number and email address.
Information regarding any previous criminal convictions, history of drug abuse, immunisation and immigration history.

When the system is finalised, more concrete information about the exact requirements for an ETA, including the fee, will be clear.

Visiting the UK with an ETA

While most tourists who travel to the UK visit London, the ETA allows full freedom of movement within the country. The UK is made up of four constituent countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. With an ETA for US citizens, travellers can move between these four nations without any problems. There is a Common Travel Area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which also covers the Channel Islands. However, now that the UK has left the European Union, further documents will be required for American travellers who want to visit other European countries.

Within the UK, visitors can travel freely using different means of transport. This includes trains, ferries and internal flights. Although no visa is required to board a ferry or internal flight, travellers must show some form of photo ID, usually a passport or driving licence.

An ETA gives a visitor permission to stay in the UK for up to six months or 180 days. If an American visitor leaves the country temporarily during that time – whether they are returning to the United States or travelling to a third country – they will need to apply for a new ETA for US citizens.

North American travellers in the UK

Tourism is one of the most important industries in the UK, contributing over £100 billion to the country’s economy. 2.6 million people work in jobs related to tourism, and around 38 million tourists enter the country each year. The city that attracts the most tourists is the country’s capital, London, which boasts attractions such as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and the British Museum.

Although the UK attracts tourists from all over the world, its relationship with the USA is particularly important to the sector. US residents visit the UK more than any other country, with around 4 million coming each year in the pre-pandemic years. More tourists come to the UK from the US than from France, despite the distance between the countries.

Most visitors to the UK come to enjoy a holiday, with 63% of travellers stating that this is the reason for their trip. Others come on business trips to visit relatives, attend family functions or study. Regardless of the reason for travelling, all visitors to the UK go through the same ETA application process.