UK ETA – Electronic Travel Authorisation Scheme

UK ETA Electronic Travel Authorisation


The UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) is a new digital permission system for certain visitors coming to the UK for short stays. It acts as a digital pre-screening process designed to enhance border security and streamline the entry procedure for non-visa national visitors, certain Creative Visa Workers and some transiting passengers.

The UK ETA scheme represents a pivotal development in managing the flow of visitors to the country. By requiring travellers from certain countries to obtain authorisation before arrival, the UK Government aims to ensure that all visitors meet the necessary security and immigration standards without needing a traditional visa.

For eligible travellers, this means a less demanding and less costly application process than obtaining a UK visa and a simplified entry process into the UK, with shorter wait times and a more seamless border crossing experience.

Understanding and complying with the ETA requirements is essential for a hassle-free visit to the United Kingdom, whether for leisure, business, or study purposes.

The Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme is currently in a phased rollout to include all visa-exempt nationalities in 2025.

As the scheme expands, more nationalities must apply for an ETA before travel. As such, it is important to check the scheme’s status and whether it applies to you at the time of your intended travel.

Failure to secure an ETA when required can result in denied entry, which can affect travel plans and possibly lead to legal complications.


Section A: Understanding the UK’s ETA


1. What is the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA)?


The United Kingdom’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) is a digital pre-authorisation system for visitors who do not require a visa to enter the UK for short stays, including tourism, business trips, or transiting through the country. It’s part of a global trend towards securing and streamlining border crossings with advanced vetting of travellers.

The purpose of the ETA is twofold: to enhance the security of the UK’s borders by pre-screening individuals against security databases before they arrive, and to facilitate smoother entry for legitimate travellers by reducing paperwork and wait times at the border.

The concept of Electronic Travel Authorisation is not new. Various countries around the world, such as the USA’s ESTA programme, have implemented it to bolster border security while making travel more accessible.

The UK’s decision to introduce its own ETA scheme was influenced by the desire to maintain robust border control post-Brexit and adapt to the evolving challenges and opportunities of global travel.


2. ETA Phased Implementation Dates


The UK Government announced plans for the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme as part of its New Plan for Immigration, aiming to implement a more secure and efficient border control system.

The ETA system is being rolled out in stages, with full implementation across all visa-exempt nationalities planned by 2025. These dates are indicative and subject to change by the UK Government.


3. Conditions and Restrictions While in the UK


a. Before you Travel
If you need an ETA, you must apply before you travel to the UK. The UK Government advises that you can travel to the UK while awaiting a decision on your ETA application.


b. Purpose of Visit
Your ETA is granted based on the travel purpose specified in your application (tourism, business, etc.). Engaging in activities outside permitted (e.g., working or studying without the appropriate visa) can lead to legal issues or deportation.


c. Duration of Stay
The ETA allows short stays only. Tourists can stay for up to 6 months, while those coming under the Creative Worker Concession can stay for up to 3 months. If you are coming to undertake a permitted paid engagement, you can stay until your engagement has been completed. Those transiting are only permitted to transit through the UK en route to their destination.

You must leave the UK before your permitted stay expires unless you’ve obtained an extension or a different type of visa.


d. Healthcare
Depending on your home country, you may not be eligible for free healthcare under the National Health Service (NHS) and should obtain appropriate health insurance for your stay.


e. Compliance with UK Laws
While in the UK, you are subject to UK laws and regulations. Non-compliance can affect your ETA status and future UK entry.


4. Difference Between ETA and Visas


The critical difference between the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) and traditional visas lies in the purpose, process, and requirement criteria:


a. Purpose
ETAs are primarily for visitors from countries that do not require a visa for short stays in the UK. In contrast, visas are necessary for visitors from countries that have yet to be waived from visa requirements or those intending to stay for extended periods, work, or study.


b. Process
Applying for an ETA is generally more straightforward, quicker, and done entirely online. It requires basic personal information, travel details, and answers to security questions. Visa applications, however, can be more complex, often requiring detailed documentation, biometric information, and sometimes an interview at a consulate or embassy.


c. Requirement Criteria
The criteria for an ETA focus on security and eligibility for visa-free travel, whereas visas have more stringent requirements, including proof of financial means, the purpose of the visit, and evidence of ties to the home country.


Section B: Who Does the ETA Apply to?


1. Who Needs an ETA for the UK?


a. Non-Visa Nationals Coming for Short Stays
Citizens of so-called ‘non-visa national’ countries who previously didn’t require a visa for short trips to the UK (up to 6 months) may now require an ETA to come to the UK for purposes like tourism, visiting family and friends, business meetings, or short-term studies.

All relevant travellers to the UK need an ETA, including babies and children.

As of April 2024, the scheme is live for a limited number of nationalities, including nationals of Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who previously used the Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW).

The rollout aims to include all visa-exempt nationalities by 2025.

Non-visa nationals should check the current status of the UK Government’s implementation of the ETA to determine if their country is included in the scheme at the time of travel.


b. Creative Workers with Short-term Concessions
If you’re a national from a country that doesn’t typically require a visa and you’re coming to the UK under the Creative Worker visa concession (lasting up to 3 months), you will need an ETA.


c. Non-Visa National Transit Passengers
Even if transiting through the UK without going through border control, non-visa nationals may need an ETA if their nationality is under the ETA scheme.

However, there are exceptions for airside transit passengers who remain within the airport’s secure area.


2. Who Doesn’t Need an ETA


a. Non-visa nationals not yet under the ETA rollout
While the ETA scheme is planned to encompass all non-visa nationalities eventually, currently, most countries that have established visa-free travel arrangements with the UK for tourism or short business visits do not yet require an ETA, including the USA, Commonwealth countries with visa waiver agreements, and citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA).

These countries are expected to be brought into the ETA scheme by 2025.


b. Visa nationals
Citizens of so-called ‘visa-national’ countries that require a visa for entry into the UK would not use the ETA system. Instead, they should apply for an appropriate visa, such as the Standard Visitor Visa.

Please read our detailed guide to the UK Standard Visitor Visa here >>


c. Specific exemptions
In addition, certain diplomatic or official passport holders might be exempt from the ETA requirement based on reciprocal agreements.


d. British and Irish Citizens
British and Irish Citizens do not require an ETA.


e. Those with Existing UK Immigration Status
You don’t need an ETA if you hold a valid visa, status, or permit allowing you to stay in the UK. This includes those with work visas, long-term study visas, and Indefinite Leave to Remain. Similarly, individuals with pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme or other forms of long-term visa or residency would not need an ETA for travel to the UK.


3. Dual Citizenship


Individuals with dual citizenship, where one is of a country eligible for the ETA and the other is not, may choose to use the passport of the ETA-eligible country to apply. The key is to travel with the passport used to apply for the ETA.


Section C: The Application Process


The application process for the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) is designed to be straightforward and user-friendly, enabling eligible travellers to obtain their travel authorisation with ease.


1. Step-by-Step Guide on Applying for the ETA


a. Check Eligibility
Before applying, check that you need an ETA and that you are a national of a country eligible for the UK’s ETA.


b. Gather Required Information and Documents
Prepare the necessary personal details and documents required for the application.


c. Complete the Online Application
Visit the official UK government website to access the ETA application form, or download the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Fill out the form with accurate information, including personal, passport, and contact details.


d. Answer Security Questions
You must answer a short set of security questions as part of the application. These questions are designed to assess your eligibility and any security risks.


e. Pay the Application Fee (if applicable)
Make the payment online using the available payment methods.


f. Submit the Application
Once the application is complete and any applicable fees are paid, submit your application for processing.


2. Required Documents and Information


Before making your application, ensure you have the following information and documents to hand:

a. Your valid and original passport from an eligible country. You will need to upload a photograph of your passport. Your passport should be valid for at least six months from the date of your arrival in the UK.

b. Personal information, including your full name, date of birth, contact details, and email address.

c. The payment method for the application fee (if any), such as a credit or debit card or access to Apple Pay or Google Pay.

d. Photograph showing the face of the applicant.


3. Processing Times


ETA applications are typically processed within three days, although some may be quicker, while others will take longer.

There is currently no premium or fast-tracked processing available.


4. Application Fees and Payment Methods


The UK ETA application costs £10 per traveller. The fee is non-refundable.

Payments can be made using major credit or debit cards, Apple Pay or Google Pay.


5. Common Mistakes to Avoid in Your Application


Navigating the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) application process smoothly requires attention to detail and an understanding of common pitfalls, which can include:


a. Inaccurate or Incomplete Information
Double-check all entered information for accuracy. Mistakes in personal details, passport information, or travel plans can lead to application processing delays or denials.


b. Overlooking Required Fields
Ensure all required fields are included in the application. Only complete applications can be processed.


c. Ignoring the Instructions for Photo Uploads
Follow the specified dimensions and quality guidelines closely if a photograph is required. Poor-quality photos can lead to application rejection.


6. Tips for a Successful ETA Application


a. Apply Well in Advance
Submit your ETA application well before your intended travel date to avoid unforeseen delays. While the ETA process is usually quick, applying early will provide peace of mind and time to address any issues.


b. Review Eligibility Criteria
Ensure you meet all eligibility requirements for the UK’s ETA. Applying when you’re not eligible can lead to unnecessary delays or denial.


c. Double-Check Passport Validity
Your passport must be valid for your stay in the UK, ideally with six months of validity from your planned arrival date. Ensure your passport details are accurately entered in the application.


d. Follow Instructions Carefully
Read all instructions in the ETA application form carefully to avoid common errors.


e. Use a Reliable Payment Method
To avoid transaction issues, ensure your payment method (credit or debit card) has sufficient funds and is accepted by the ETA application system.


f. Attention to Detail
Pay close attention to the accuracy of the information provided on the application to prevent delays or denials.


g. Be Prepared
Have all necessary documents and information ready before starting the application process.


h. Plan for Contingencies
Apply for your ETA well before your travel date to account for any unforeseen delays in processing.


Section D: After Your ETA Application


1. Application Successful: After You Receive Your ETA


Once your UK Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) is approved, it marks the clearance of a crucial step in planning your visit to the UK. However, remember a few steps and considerations post-approval to ensure a smooth travel experience.


a. Confirmation of Approval
If approved, your ETA will be linked to your passport and you will receive a notification, usually via email, confirming the approval. The notification will contain your ETA number and other relevant details.


b. Print a Copy
While your ETA is electronically linked to your passport, it is advisable to print a copy of the approval confirmation or save it on your mobile device. This serves as proof of your ETA approval and can be helpful if any questions arise during your travel or upon entry.


c. Digital Storage
In addition to a physical printout, it is wise to store a digital copy of your ETA confirmation in your email or a cloud storage service. This ensures you have access to the document whenever needed.


2. ETA Validity Period


The validity of an ETA is two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.

If your passport expires while your ETA is valid, you must apply for a new ETA.

You may enter the UK multiple times during its validity unless specified otherwise.


3. ETA Renewal Process


It’s important to monitor your ETA’s expiry date and apply for a new one well in advance of any planned travel.

If your ETA expires or your passport changes, you must apply for a new ETA.

The renewal process is the same as the initial application process. You must complete the application form online or via the app and pay the application fee.


4. What to Do if Your Application is Delayed


ETA applications typically take three days to process. If you have not received a decision after three days, check your emails for any updates on your application status, including requests for additional information. Prompt responses to these requests can help resolve issues.

If your application is significantly delayed, contact the UK visa and immigration support services for information on its status.


5. ETA Application Denied


If your UK ETA application is denied, carefully review the reasons provided in the denial notice. This will allow you to determine whether the decision can be appealed or if reapplying would be a better option.

Correct these issues if your application was denied due to errors or missing information before reapplying. Ensure you meet all eligibility criteria to avoid repeated denials.


Section E: Case Studies


The following case studies help to illustrate who the ETA applies to and how it works in practice.


Case Study 1: The Family Vacation
The Johnson family, consisting of two adults and two children, planned a two-week vacation to explore the UK’s historic sites. They realised they needed ETAs as they were nationals of a country covered by the UK’s ETA scheme.

They started their ETA application process about a month before their travel date. Each family member had to submit an individual application, but the parents managed the applications for the children.

They double-checked all the information for accuracy and ensured their travel plans were detailed and consistent across applications. They also scanned their documents in advance to ensure a smooth submission process.

The family received their ETAs within a week. Their trip was memorable, with no entry issues at the UK border.

Start early and ensure all applications are consistent, especially when travelling as a family or group. Double-check personal and travel information before submitting.


Case Study 2: The Business Trip on Short Notice
A software developer, Alex, was invited to a tech conference in London on relatively short notice. As a national of an ETA-eligible country, he needed to obtain an ETA quickly.

Alex applied for his ETA immediately after confirming his travel arrangements, paying close attention to the expedited processing times mentioned by colleagues who had travelled recently.

By preparing all his documents and following the application guidelines precisely, Alex ensured his application was straightforward and error-free.

Alex received his ETA confirmation within a few days, allowing him to attend the conference without any travel issues.

Ensure you have all the necessary information and documents for last-minute trips. Follow the application instructions carefully to avoid delays.


Case Study 3: Overcoming an ETA Denial
Sara, a freelance photographer, had her initial ETA application denied due to an error in her passport number.

Upon receiving the denial, Sara carefully reviewed the reasons provided, identified the mistake, and prepared to reapply.

Sara corrected the error and double-checked all other details for accuracy before re-submitting her application.

Her ETA was approved on the second attempt, and she could proceed with her travel plans to the UK for a photography exhibition.

If your application is denied, understand the reasons and address them directly in your reapplication. Attention to detail is crucial.


Section F: Summary


Navigating the intricacies of international travel can be a complex endeavour, particularly with the ever-evolving regulations and requirements that govern entry into countries like the United Kingdom.

The introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) represents a significant step in streamlining the entry process for visa-exempt travellers, enhancing security measures, and ensuring a smooth transition through UK borders. Understanding and complying with the ETA requirements is a matter of legal obligation and a key to unlocking a hassle-free and enjoyable travel experience.

Moreover, in an era marked by rapid changes in policies and rules, staying informed about the latest travel advisories and health regulations related to the ETA is essential. The flexibility to adapt to new requirements, whether they pertain to health declarations, vaccination statuses, or other measures, is critical to ensuring your journey is successful and safe.

The UK’s ETA scheme is a testament to the balancing act of maintaining national security while promoting tourism and business travel. For prospective visitors, it represents an opportunity to experience the rich heritage, vibrant culture, and stunning landscapes of the UK with minimal fuss at the border. By fully embracing the ETA requirements and preparing adequately, travellers can look forward to an enriching and memorable visit to the United Kingdom.


Section G: Frequently Asked Questions about the UK’s ETA Scheme


What is an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for the UK?
An ETA is a requirement for visa-exempt foreign nationals travelling to the UK. It’s an electronic system that pre-screens travellers before they arrive at the UK border.


How long does the ETA application process take?
Most ETA applications are processed quickly, often within a few days. However, applicants must apply a few weeks before their intended travel date to account for any unforeseen delays.


Can I apply for an ETA for my entire family at once?
No, each traveller must submit an individual ETA application. However, parents or guardians can complete applications for their children or dependents.


What should I do if my travel plans change after receiving my ETA?
If your travel plans change, but your ETA is still valid, and you’re not changing the purpose of your visit, you typically do not need to apply for a new ETA. However, a new application may be necessary if there are significant changes or if your ETA has expired.


Can I expedite my ETA application?
There is yet to be an official expedited service available for ETA applications. It’s best to apply as early as possible to ensure you receive your ETA before your travel date.


What happens if my ETA application is denied?
If your application is denied, you will receive an explanation for the decision. You may address the issue and reapply or consider applying for a visa.


Do I need to print my ETA, or can I show it on my mobile device?
Your ETA is linked electronically to your passport, so you don’t need to print it. However, it is recommended that you keep a digital or printed copy for your records.


How long is the ETA valid?
ETA validity can vary, typically lasting for a set period (e.g., 2 years) or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Check the specific terms of your ETA upon approval.


Can I work or study in the UK with an ETA?
An ETA is intended for tourism, business, or transitory visits only. If you wish to work or study in the UK, you must apply for the appropriate visa.


What are the requirements for a successful ETA application?

Requirements include:

• A valid passport from an eligible country.
• Completion of the online application form.
• Answer health-related questions or provide additional documentation as requested.


If I have dual nationality, which passport should I use to apply for the ETA?
You should use the passport of the eligible country you plan to use when travelling to the UK. The ETA will be electronically linked to this passport.


Section H: Glossary of Key ETA Terms


Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA): A digital pre-approval for visa-exempt foreign nationals, allowing them to travel to the UK. It involves a security and eligibility check before arrival.


Visa: An endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period in a country.


Visa-exempt: Refers to nationals from countries that do not require a visa to enter the UK for short stays.


Application Portal: The online platform where travellers submit their ETA or visa applications.


Eligible Countries: Nations whose citizens can apply for an ETA due to agreements with the UK or visa-exemption policies.


UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI): is the division of the Home Office responsible for handling visas, immigration, and asylum in the UK.


Pre-screening: is the process of checking applicants’ details against security databases before they travel as part of the ETA application.


Biometric Information: Unique physical characteristics, such as fingerprints and photographs, are used for identification and security purposes.


Public Health England: is an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK that provides public health and safety information and guidelines.


Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO): The UK government department responsible for protecting UK interests worldwide, including travel advisories.


Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): is permission to stay in the UK without any time limit; it is considered permanent residency.


Settled Status: Part of the EU Settlement Scheme grants eligible EU citizens and their family members the right to remain in the UK indefinitely.


Passenger Locator Form: A document required by many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing travel and contact details.


National Health Service (NHS): The UK’s publicly funded healthcare system provides a wide range of health services.


Dual Citizenship: The status of being a citizen of two countries at the same time.


Renewal Process: The procedure for extending the validity of an existing visa or ETA.


Section I: Additional Helpful Resources


Official UK Government Resources


UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
The official portal for all UK visa and immigration services, including the ETA, is a primary resource. Look for the specific section dedicated to the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for the most up-to-date information.


ETA Application Portal
Direct access to the application portal for the ETA can usually be found within the UKVI section of the UK government’s official website.


Travel Advice – Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)
For broader travel advice, including entry requirements, safety and security, and health advisories.


Public Health England
For health-related advisories, including any health-centred travel advisories or requirements.


Authoritative Sources of Reference


World Health Organization (WHO)
For international health advisories and COVID-19 guidelines applicable to travel.


International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Centre
Offers information on travel, visa, and health requirements by country.


Embassy or Consular Websites
Many UK embassies and consulates worldwide provide localised information and guidance on visa and entry requirements, including the ETA. Searching for the UK embassy website in your country can offer tailored advice and updates.



Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

Legal disclaimer


The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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