The UK ETA Application Form
The United Kingdom is currently finalising plans to roll out the United Kingdom Electronic Travel Authorisation system, or UK ETA. This will be very similar in nature to other systems currently operating in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe by 2024 when ETIAS becomes mandatory for British citizens.
The ETA is approval to enter the United Kingdom for up to ninety days. An ETA is not a paper document but a digital attachment to a passport that can be detected when the passport is scanned at a UK point of entry. It is expected that a trial run will be conducted by mid to late 2023 involving several countries in the Middle East, and, subject to a positive outcome, the system will then become fully operational in 2024 or 2025.
Once fully functioning and operational, this digital approval will become mandatory for citizens of countries that currently enjoy visa-free access to the UK who wish to visit any of the four United Kingdom countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The only exceptions to the ETA requirement will be citizens of British Territories and the Republic of Ireland, which operates a Common Travel Area policy with the UK. Citizens of countries which currently require a visa to visit the UK will still be required to have the relevant visa.
Applying for a UK ETA is done entirely online by filling out a comprehensive application form and attaching scanned copies of any requested documentation, e.g. a passport. The actual application form has not been fully formulated as yet, but it should be similar to other pre-travel authorisation systems such as the American ESTA and the European Union’s ETIAS.
Before attempting to complete the UK ETA application form, there are some necessary requirements. As the application process is completed entirely online and requires some documents to be digitally attached, it will be necessary to:
- Own (or have access to) a computer with an internet connection
- Be able to scan documents onto the computer, retrieve the files and attach them
- Have a valid email address for confirmation of the ETA
- Have an acceptable debit or credit card for payment
While all of the above may be taken as being accessible to everybody, this is far from the case. Being somewhat computer literate is probably a basic requirement for the ETA application process, while those who are not so proficient may need to enlist the help of a friend who is.
It is also necessary that applicants have a current, valid, biometric passport which should be no more than ten years old and with an expiry date at least three months following the date of departure from the United Kingdom.
Expected ETA Application Questions
As with any form of visa or permission to travel application, certain questions will obviously be asked. These are just for background information on the applicant and will include:
- Full Name
- Current Address
- Date of Birth
- Marital Status
- Passport Number
- Contact Details (phone, email)
There is expected to be a space allocated for the applicant to detail the main reason(s) for visiting the United Kingdom and outline any planned travel itinerary while in the UK and supply the dates of entry and exit from the jurisdiction.
Because border security is the primary motivation behind the UK ETA, it is no surprise that a portion of the application form will deal with this subject. The United Kingdom authorities are keen to prevent illegal migration into the UK and want to reduce the possibility of criminal or terrorist activity by visiting non-nationals.
Although the precise questions, wording and details are yet to be finalised, it is reasonable to assume that questions relating to an applicant’s criminal or terrorist history will be included. As an example, the ETIAS application form covers such topics as:
- Criminal record and previous convictions
- Past travel to war zones or areas of conflict
- Pending criminal hearings
- Previous deportations from any country
As a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ETIAS applicants must also report any serious ongoing medical conditions, particularly those of a transmissible nature. Such questions may or may not also be included on the UK ETA application form.
Previous convictions or a history of visiting conflict areas may count against an applicant and reduce the chances of ETA approval. However, omitting such details will almost certainly do so. All information is thoroughly cross-checked with numerous international databases, and the chances of detection are extremely high.
It should not be assumed that any criminal conviction will result in a failed UK ETA application. Minor or lesser crimes committed in the distant past should not count against an applicant. It is only major criminal activity or a strong suspicion of a link to terrorism that will lead to a refusal.
Driving convictions and short or suspended sentences for minor offences should not affect an applicant’s chances of a successful outcome. Once again, details have yet to be finalised, but, using the ETIAS guidelines, convictions for serious offences that will negatively impact an applicant should only be convictions.
Some of these serious offences are:
- Acts of terrorism
- Sexual exploitation of minors
- Human trafficking
- Drugs-related crime and trafficking
Even convictions for these major offences do not automatically exclude an applicant from being granted a UK ETA, as each case is assessed individually.
Using the UK ETA
Once the application form is submitted and payment made (estimated to cost around €7.00 or £6.15), it is expected that approval will be granted within 2 to 3 days. Confirmation will be sent to the email address provided, and the ETA will be automatically linked to the applicant’s passport. The three-day approval time stated on the UK government website is not set in stone, as the site also states that it may take longer when further background checks are required.
The ETA is exclusively for the use of the designated applicant and is not transferable. Nor does it cover a spouse or children, as each non-national must possess their own UK ETA. Once granted, the UK ETA is valid for a period of two years from the date of issue and allows the holder to enter and leave the United Kingdom an unlimited amount of times within that period. Once expired, however, it will be necessary to apply once again and make the required payment.
Information to note
If a passport expires within the two-year ETA limit, the ETA expires with it. The ETA is linked to only one passport, which should be used for travel in the event of a non-national possessing more than one.
Much like a Schengen Visa, there are limits on what ETA holders can do while in the United Kingdom. While the holder can enter numerous times and remain for up to ninety days, this is only for vacations, family visits, business or short-term study. The ETA does not grant the holder the right to remain in the UK indefinitely, nor does it grant permission to find employment.
Working, residing or enrolling in long-term study courses will require an official UK Visa issued for the specific purpose of the visit.
Although the UK ETA will be a mandatory requirement to enter the United Kingdom in the near future, it does not mean the holder will have an automatic right of entry. It will still be necessary to go through passport control, where the border agents on duty have the right to refuse entry if they have reasonable grounds for doing so.
Also, although the ETA is digitally linked to a passport, and there should be no need for a paper version, it is a good idea to have a printed copy to hand, as this may be requested in some instances.