How to apply for the UK ETA

| March 15, 2023
How to apply for the UK ETA

Introduction of UK ETA

As the European Union begins to roll out its European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or ETIAS, the United Kingdom is preparing its own version of pre-travel screening approval. The new travel requirement for most foreign nationals wishing to visit any of the four United Kingdom countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is currently a work in progress and not expected to become mandatory until 2025, although this date is not set in stone.

The new entry permit system is called Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) and will not affect British passport holders but will have an impact on visiting foreign nationals who currently enjoy easy access to the United Kingdom via a simple, valid passport.

But what is ETA? How does ETA work? And who needs (or will need) ETA?

What is ETA?

Across the globe, several countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have introduced an electronic pre-screening system for visitors from overseas. The European Union is currently in the process of doing the same, with ETIAS already up and running and set to become mandatory before the end of 2023.

The basic concept of these online screening systems is to gather information regarding intending visitors in order to determine if the arriving travellers pose a criminal, security, terrorist or health risk by checking the details supplied on the application form against information stored on security (and other) databases.

Electronic approval is faster and easier to apply for than standard paper visas, and background checks on applicants are also more detailed and up-to-date than was previously possible.

The new Electronic Travel Authorisation is United Kingdom’s answer to those systems already in place in other parts of the world. It is a means of monitoring who enters the UK and determining who should be refused entry.

How Does ETA Work?

An ETA is not a paper document like a visa but electronic approval to enter and move around the United Kingdom’s four countries. Once applied for and approved, the ETA is digitally linked to the relevant passport, which, when scanned, shows up at the passport holder’s point of departure and point of arrival in the United Kingdom.

Applying for an ETA is done online, so applicants will require access to a computer and a valid email address to submit the application.

Application Process

It is claimed the online ETA application process “only takes a few minutes,” but this depends on exactly what constitutes a few minutes. Regardless, an ETA application is submitted entirely online and requires the following:

  • Completed application form supplying basic personal details, including full name, date of birth, nationality and intended travel plans.
  • Current, valid, biometric passport.
  • Email address
  • An acceptable method of payment (debit or credit card).

As is the case with any official process, it is vital to supply all information and documentation requested. Failure to complete the application form correctly and in full will result in delays and possibly outright rejection.

Once the information and documentation supplied have been checked the ETA should be approved within two to three days.

Who Needs ETA?

Passport holders from countries that currently require a visa to visit the United Kingdom will still require one. The ETA requirement applies to countries that currently enjoy visa-free access to the UK, which includes almost all European Union and Schengen countries and major nations such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and China.

Although the status quo remains for the present, in the coming few years, a valid passport will no longer suffice. All foreign nationals entering the United Kingdom will require either a biometric passport with an electronically linked ETA or a British visa.

Once the EU fully implements the ETIAS programme, British passport holders will require an ETIAS-approved passport to travel to and within the European zone. Unsurprisingly, the reverse will be true after the UK begins to operate ETA.
Among those countries whose citizens will require an ETA are:

  • All European Union member countries (with the exception of the Republic of Ireland)
  • All Schengen Area member states
  • Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as countries that currently enjoy the visa-exemption status, will also require an ETA in the not-too-distant future unless further agreements can be negotiated and agreed upon.

Ireland the Exception

From as far back as 1922, there has been an understanding between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, which allows freedom of travel between the two entities and also grants certain rights to citizens of one while resident in the other. This is known as the Common Travel Area arrangement, and it is strictly an arrangement between Britain and Ireland and independent of any EU legislation.
The Common Travel Area encompasses all of the four UK countries and Ireland (as well as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), and Irish and British citizens afford certain rights and privileges within the confines of these countries and islands.

All citizens of the Common Travel Area are entitled to reside, study and work within the area and this also applies to travel. Even following Britain’s exit from the European Union (Brexit), British and Irish citizens still enjoy the freedom of travel between the two countries with no requirement for a visa or, as will soon be the case, an ETA.

Purposes of ETA

While the final list of countries whose citizens will require an ETA has yet to be confirmed, the purpose of the travel approval is clearly defined. Non-Visa nationals (NVN) will require an ETA to enter the United Kingdom for:

  • Tourism
  • Business Purposes
  • Short Study Courses
  • Medical Reasons

As with a standard Schengen Visa, it is expected that NVNs with an ETA will be allowed to remain within the confines of the United Kingdom for a maximum period of 180 days before being obliged to leave the jurisdiction. Once in the UK, NVNs are free to roam and travel anywhere within the four countries that comprise the United Kingdom but not the Republic of Ireland, which is a completely different country.

The British government expects to begin operating ETA in 2023 and have the system fully in place by 2025, but this is the planned timing and is always subject to change. At present, non-visa nationals only require a valid passport to visit the UK. Still, it is strongly advisable to keep abreast of any updates regarding the implementation of ETA, which may impact upon any upcoming trips to the United Kingdom.

As with the boy scouts, it is advisable to “be prepared” as the ETA introduction is an evolving process and subject to change at any time!