The new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), as it's called, will cost about £10 ($12.50) and will be fully implemented at the end of 2024 as the UK continues to digitalize its border control systems. The ETA will require some visitors to apply for an electronic pass to enter the UK for tourism, short-term business, transit and other common travel purposes.
It's a completely electronic system, based on the United States' ESTA system, so you won't have to get bogged down on paperwork. Just as British travelers need to sign up for ESTA online before entering the US, Americans will likely be required to do the same for travel to the UK.
So, how will the ETA work when it's implemented? It's not yet clear exactly what screening criteria will be used to grant an ETA but passengers will more than likely be asked to register passport information and answer a series of security questions online to determine eligibility.
Assuming you are successful, you will be issued with a pass which, combined with your passport, entitles you to visit the UK for a specific period.
Here's what we know so far.
Who will need an ETA to enter the UK?
According to the government, the ETA applies to people who are eligible to travel to the UK without a visa. So that is anyone arriving for tourism purposes, visiting family or friends, or traveling to the UK for business or study for up to six months. It also applies to people eligible for the Creative Worker visa concession and anyone transiting through the UK.
The UK is rolling out the new system in phases. Starting November 15, it will apply to visitors from Qatar. Then from February 22, 2024, it will be extended to citizens from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The UK government has not listed additional countries included in the scheme but it is expected to be applied to all foreign visitors who currently have visa-free access to the UK, such as European Union citizens and people from the US, Australia, Hong Kong, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, South Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and more before the end of 2024.
Irish citizens are excluded from the ETA requirement due to the Common Travel Agreement between the UK and Ireland.
Is the ETA a visa?
No. Nationals from some countries will still be required to apply for a visa and visa applications will continue to operate as before. The ETA is a pre-authorization system for travel that will apply to people from countries that currently have visa-free travel agreements with the UK.
"The scheme will give the UK more control of our borders, allowing us to block threats from entering the UK while also providing individuals and carriers with more assurance at an earlier point in time about their ability to travel to the UK," the government stated.
How much will it cost to apply?
It will cost £10 to apply, which works out to about $12.50 or €8.50.
How soon before traveling should I apply for my ETA?
The ETA will take up to 72 hours to be approved. ETAs will be valid for visa-free travel for up to six months in the UK.
How long will my ETA be valid for?
Two years — so you'll need to reapply every two years for renewed access to the UK or whenever your passport expires.
Will my ETA grant me access to European countries?
No, the ETA is valid for entry to the UK only. If you are a non-EU citizen and you're eligible to visit the European Schengen Zone without a visa for a short-term stay, you'll soon need to apply for a similar permit. That's called an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) and it is expected to be rolled out early next year. That one will cost about €7 (or $7.50). As the UK is no longer part of the EU, British travelers will also have to apply for an ETIAS to travel to much of Europe when the new system is in place.