UK Electronic Travel Authorisation Process

| March 8, 2023
UK Electronic Travel Authorisation Process

The British government has announced its intention to introduce what it terms a “permission to travel” requirement for future visitors to the United Kingdom. The new requirement is almost identical in nature to the European Union’s European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and will serve the same purpose: the pre-screening of non-nationals entering the territory.

Britain’s new screening system is called Electronic Travel Authorisation, or ETA for short. When fully operational, it will apply to citizens of all countries with the exception of Irish and British nationals. Currently, there is a vast spectrum of foreign nationals who can enter the United Kingdom for short periods without needing a visa. These non-visa nationals (NVN) only require a valid passport as a means of identification and may remain within the United Kingdom for up to ninety days, just as British passport holders currently enjoy the same privilege when travelling to a Schengen or EU member state.

Following Brexit, however, the United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union. The situation is changing as British visitors to Europe will soon be required to have sought and received an ETIAS before any European visit can be undertaken. An ETIAS is not mandatory yet but will become so later in 2023.
Just as ETIAS is intended to protect Europe from potential terrorist attacks, criminal activity or health risks, the UK ETA is being introduced for the same purposes.


Similar to other systems already in use in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada (and soon Europe), ETA is a method of pre-screening intending visitors to ensure undesirable elements are prevented from entering the United Kingdom.

As is the case with a visa application, an ETA application form will require the applicant’s personal details, including full name, date of birth, nationality and the dates of travel to and from the United Kingdom. A current, valid, biometric passport will also be required, and, as ETA is an online process, the applicant will also need an email address and an acceptable method of payment.

These will be the minimum requirements, but additional documentation may be requested depending on the information supplied by the applicant in the online questionnaire, and these will need to be attached to the application form. Although the application is stated to be simple and fast, this may not always be the case for those applicants whose computer operating skills are only at a basic level.

Information supplied on the online questionnaire will then be checked through various British, European and world security databases. The ETA should be granted within two to three days if there are no issues with the application.

An ETA is not a visa. It is permission to enter the United Kingdom for a limited amount of time (90 days maximum) and is intended for visitors who wish to visit for:

  • Short study courses
  • Business purposes
  • Tourism
  • Medical treatment

The new ETA is only for those non-visa nationals on the British government’s list. Citizens of countries not on the NVN list or qualifying citizens who wish to remain in the UK for an extended period of time will need to apply for the appropriate form of visa, as is the current situation.

ETA Introduction

Precisely when the new ETA system will be introduced is a matter of conjecture. One source states that ETA will be operational “within the next few years,” while another insists it will be up, running and mandatory by the end of 2024. It is difficult to envisage ETA being a mandatory requirement for non-visa nationals as early as 2024 as there are a number of laws and regulations that still need to be amended, and this, in itself, can be a lengthy process.

The UK’s Nationality and Borders Bill has strengthened immigration regulations and this will have a knock-on effect on who can be granted an ETA and who can not. Stricter and more in-depth background checks will be the norm, and changes to the Bill will make acquiring an ETA by deception a criminal offence.

As with all electronic pre-screening systems, an ETA must be secured before a traveller arrives in the country, which should be a very unlikely scenario. The carrier (airline or shipping agency) will be responsible for ensuring that all passengers travelling to the United Kingdom possess an ETA or other appropriate documentation. This will entail the British government making amendments to the Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999 in order to compel carriers to carry out the appropriate checks or face severe financial penalties.

ETA Application

Applicants must have received an ETA before arrival in the United Kingdom. The application form can be completed online and is estimated to take ten to fifteen minutes. Every individual, whether travelling alone or as part of a family or group, must possess their own ETA linked to their passport.

The application process consists of the following:

  • Completing each section of the application form
  • Answering any personal, travel and security questions
  • Making payment in full using an acceptable method of payment

Great care should be taken when filling in the application form. Mistakes, omissions or suspicious answers will result in delaying approval or (quite possibly) outright refusal. Similarly, all documentation requested should be attached. In most cases, an approval (or denial) should be returned via email within three days. The ETA is not a paper document but an electronic attachment to a passport which will show up on a scanner at the traveller’s point of departure to the UK or at any subsequent checks.

An ETA is not, as yet, compulsory but should be up and running by the end of 2023, according to government publications. It is also expected that the system will be fully implemented by 2025. Whether or not this will be the case remains to be seen. Still, any non-visa nationals wishing to visit the United Kingdom from the summer of 2023 onwards should check on the latest situation regarding whether an ETA is required or not in his or her particular case.

An exact fee for an ETA has yet to be disclosed and it would be foolish to guess at the actual cost. The EU ETIAS costs €7 (£6) and may give an indication of the expected cost of an ETA. However, the American ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) now costs $21 (€20/£17.50), an increase of 50% on last year’s $14.