By the end of 2024, people who do not need a visa to enter the United Kingdom will need to have an electronic travel authorisation, or ETA, before they visit.

These ‘non-visa nationals’, including EU and US citizens, can currently travel to the UK without a visa if visiting for up to six months. The new system, introduced by the Home Office, will require visitors to apply and pay for the ETA before travel. As a result, some kind of advance permission to travel – either an ETA or a visa – will be mandatory for all travellers to the UK, except British and Irish citizens.

Similar schemes exist in other countries and the EU is setting up its own version.

The Government says the scheme will improve border security because it will have more information about non-visa visitors and more time to screen them. Advance screening will, according to the Home Office, reduce the number of people denied entry at the border (for example, if they have a criminal record) as they will not be permitted to travel in the first place.

What is a UK electronic travel authorisation?

The UK’s Immigration Rules give some information about ETAs. People will apply online or through a mobile app. The form will ask for a photograph, biographical and contact information, passport details, and answers to questions about criminal offences and immigration history.

The Home Office eventually wants people to provide fingerprints, but will not require this until it can be done remotely through an app. The department has been running feasibility trials of fingerprint self-upload technology.

Decisions may be automated and ETAs will usually be issued “within 3 working days”. People could be refused an ETA because of past convictions or overstaying a visa.

The ETA itself will not be a physical document. It will be a digital record linked to the person’s passport and confirmed by email. Carriers, such as airlines, will also be notified electronically that the person has permission to travel.

How much will a UK electronic travel authorisation cost?

The fee is yet to be confirmed.

The Home Office says the cost will be “competitive with that of equivalent systems run by other countries” (PDF). The Australian Electronic Travel Authority costs AU$20 (£11) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System will cost €7 (£6).

The Times reported in 2021 that the fee might be “about £9”.

Each ETA will be valid for multiple journeys but will expire after two years. People will need to apply for a new ETA after that, or if they change their passport.

When is the UK bringing in electronic travel authorisations?

The Home Office plans a gradual roll-out, starting with certain Middle Eastern nationalities already eligible for a pilot electronic visa waiver scheme. This will begin with Qataris in October 2023, followed by citizens of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in February 2024.

The Government says ETAs will be in place for all relevant nationalities “by the end of 2024”.

Who needs an electronic travel authorisation and who doesn’t?

ETAs are for ‘non-visa nationals’, who do not need a visa for short trips to the UK (for example, American tourists or EU business visitors).

People who have a visa will not need an ETA as well. There is no change for people arriving on family or work visas, or who are currently required to apply in advance for a visitor visa.

British citizens, Irish citizens and people lawfully resident in Ireland who arrive via the Common Travel Area will not need ETAs.

What happens if someone travels to the UK without an electronic travel authorisation?

Someone who tries to travel without the required ETA is likely to be denied boarding by their carrier and may be refused entry at the border.

It will also be a criminal offence to knowingly arrive without an ETA if one is required.

What about people who cross the open border from Ireland?

Non-visa nationals lawfully resident in the Republic of Ireland who cross into Northern Ireland are exempt from the ETA requirement. Residents of Ireland who need a visa to enter the UK will continue to need one.

There are concerns about the impact on tourism. Non-visa nationals visiting Ireland can currently add on a trip into Northern Ireland with no UK immigration implications. They will now be expected to have an ETA or risk committing a criminal offence.

The Government says it is not exempting tourists arriving from Ireland but will work with tourism bodies to ensure visitors are aware of the ETA rules. It also notes that there will be no border checks for ETAs, just as there are currently none for visas.

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has questioned “the usefulness of a requirement to have an ETA for a journey that will be subject to no checks” (PDF).

About the author: CJ McKinney is a researcher at the House of Commons Library specialising in immigration.

Photo by: (© By Darren Baker –

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