Airport indicator board ETA

The UK's Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) Scheme - your questions answered

2023 will see the introduction of the UK’s Electronic Authorisation (ETA) scheme. The scheme was announced in February 2022, when the UK government issued a policy paper confirming that:

‘As part of our transformation of the border and immigration system, we are introducing a universal ‘permission to travel’ requirement, which will require everyone wishing to travel to the UK (except British and Irish citizens) to seek permission in advance of travel.’

In order to request permission to travel, individuals will need to apply through the ETA scheme, which is similar to the systems already used by the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The government is hoping that the scheme will ‘give the UK more control of our borders’.

The UK’s ETA scheme is not yet in force; it will come into force from 15 November 2023 (applications open from 25 October 2023) for nationals of Qatar, and then from 22 February 2024, citizens of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and UAE will need an ETA to travel to the UK. Other nationalities (those who can travel to the UK without a visa) will be added to the scheme on a later date. Ensuring the scheme is fully in operation by late 2024 would coincide with the expiry of many Biometric Residence Permits and Cards, and the government’s expectation that immigration status will be electronic from 01 January 2025, so I guess the government is working towards having all nationalities added to the scheme by late 2024.

Here are some some answers to FAQs in relation to the ETA scheme below, so that businesses and individuals can take steps to prepare for the introduction of the scheme.

What is the ETA scheme?

The purpose of the ETA scheme is to screen visitors before they arrive in the UK; those travelling to the UK will need to complete an online ETA application, and unless complex, most applications will be processed automatically.

Who will need to secure ETA approval?

The ETA scheme will apply to individuals visiting the UK for tourism, business, transit purposes, short-term study and medical treatment. As mentioned above, the scheme will only apply to non-visa nationals. This includes individuals from the EU, other European countries (Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, Switzerland and Vatican City), and other visa-exempt countries - essentially visitors from countries who do not need to apply for a visit visa before travelling to the UK.

The scheme will be rolled out in phases; as noted above, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will be the first nationalities to use the ETA scheme in 2023 and 2024.

Will biometric information need to be supplied?

Applicants will not need to attend a Visa Application Centre to provide biometric information, but must provide a passport-size facial image as part of the application process.

Will I need to provide any documents?

No, although you will need access to a valid passport (information from the passport will be entered onto the application), email address and facial image.

How long will ETA approval last?

The ETA will be valid for two years. If visiting on more than one occasion and a previous ETA approval remains valid, further ETA approval is not necessary, although if your passport expires before the ETA has expired, a new ETA will need to be secured using the new passport details.

When will I need to apply to the ETA scheme?

Information currently available online indicates that decisions are usually issued within 3 working days, but if additional checks are necessary, it may take longer than 3 working days for a decision to be issued. Due to delays with immigration cases generally, we’d advise that ETA applications are submitted with as much notice as possible.

How long will it take to complete the application?

The ETA website confirms that it will take just a few minutes to complete the online application.

Will the ETA scheme application attract a fee?

Yes - £10 per applicant.

How will ETA decisions be issued?

By email – if successful, the ETA will be electronically linked to the passport used to secure the ETA.

What if I forget to apply to the ETA scheme?

You won’t be able to travel to the UK if you’re a national of a country who must secure ETA approval. The UK government will use interactive Advance Passenger Information (API) to check a passenger has ETA approval, and is hoping to be able to provide an electronic message to the carrier so the carrier is aware who already has approval. Carriers will be liable to a penalty charge if they allow an individual to travel without ETA approval.

Can ETA’s be refused?

Yes - to secure an ETA, those travelling to the UK will need to comply with requirements contained in Appendix Electronic Travel Authorisation of the Immigration Rules. An ETA could be refused if a valid ETA application isn’t submitted, or if the Home Office considers that an Applicant is not suitable for an ETA. Suitability could prevent an individual from securing an ETA if:

  • They are the subject of an exclusion or deportation order
  • They have a criminal conviction
  • Their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good
  • They have previously breached immigration laws
  • They have made false representations or not disclosed material facts
  • They are in debt to the NHS
  • They have unpaid litigation costs which were awarded to the Home Office

If an ETA is refused, you’d need to apply for a visa before travelling to the UK – depending on the reasons why ETA approval has been refused, there is a risk that a visa application will also be refused, so seek legal advice about this.

Anything else to be aware of?

Be aware that the Nationality and Borders Bill will make it a criminal offence to use deception to obtain, or to try to obtain, an ETA.

Latitude Law’s specialist team helps many individuals and international businesses and organisations with enquiries in relation to visitors coming to the UK. If you would like to speak to one of our experts concerning your UK visit, call us now on 0300 131 6767 or complete our enquiry form below.


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