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Visiting the UK? The Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme is finally launching

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After numerous delays, the UK is finally about to join the United States, Canada and various other countries in launching an Electronic Travel Authorisation programme.

This will force most people visiting the United Kingdom who do not require a visa to apply for entry permission in advance of travel.

The guinea pig is …. Qatar

For reasons unknown – given that Qatar only has around 300,000 passport holders – it has been chosen to pilot the scheme.

UK Electronic Travel Authorisation

From 15th November 2023, any Qatari passport holders who want to visit the UK will need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorisation.

The application system does not open until 15th October so it isn’t clear at this point what sort of information will be required.

From 22nd February 2024, the list expands to:

  • Bahrain
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates

Further countries will be added later.

Who is exempt from an ETA?

You will not need an ETA if you have:

  • a British or Irish passport
  • permission to live, work or study in the UK, or
  • a visa to enter the UK

Confusingly, Irish residents (non passport holders) are only exempt if they enter the UK from Ireland, Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. They will need to apply if entering from any other country.

What will it cost and how long will it take?

The Government is promising to turn around applications in three working days.

All travellers, including babies, must have their own ETA.

The cost is £10 per person.

How long will an Electronic Travel Authority last?

Your ETA will last for two years.

However, it is linked to your passport, not to you personally. If you renew your passport, you will need to apply for a fresh ETA.

You can find out more on the ETA website here. Confusingly, the video on that page says that an ETA will be required by anyone in transit through the UK, but I assume this only applies to those who leave the airport. I’m sure British Airways would be up in arms if transit passengers at Heathrow had to pay £10 for the privilege. (EDIT: Apparently it IS true ….)

Comments (137)

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  • rob keane says:

    Where it will hit is USA tourists coming to Ireland. Vast majority fly into Dublin. If they find out they need paperwork to come to N.I., it’ll probably just be enough to put a significant amount off from doing so, especially if they only find out about it when they arrive in Ireland.

    • yonasl says:

      I don’t think you cancel your trip to IE just because you have to pay £10 and fill a form.

      Or don’t we all fly to the US regardless of the ESTA application existence.

    • George says:

      How will these tourists cope with the new EU-wide similar scheme, launching (relatively) soon?

      And what impact has the paperwork had on people going the other way? eg to the US, where the ESTA scheme is in operation.

      People can adapt.

      • Rob says:

        I’d be shocked if poeple are willingly going to pay £10 per person and fill in additional forms just to transit in London on their way from, say, the US to Croatia. Lufthansa must be laughing its head off.

        And don’t say ‘it’s only £10’. People have busy lives and if they know they can save themselves a slug of time and effort (remember you even need to fill in the forms and pay up for a babe in arms) they will fly another airline instead and cut out the Heathrow transit. These people will ALREADY need to get an EU ETA from 2024/25.

        • jjoohhnn says:

          Except why would you choose to transit in LHR anyway unless the flight is cheaper or the flight times are better? £10pp unlikely to make much shift to that.

        • Jack says:

          £10 is a very low price indeed compared to a ESTA for the US it will be a much simpler and less expensive process . Heathrow is a huge airport for connections and I’m sure many will still come here

          • Londonsteve says:

            If even 10% of people decide to ignore the option of transiting at Heathrow because of the ETA requirements, that’s an awful lot of transit passengers Heathrow and BA can kiss goodbye to. There’s a lot of choice when flying to Europe and it’s incredibly easy to cross BA off the list, or avoid a Heathrow transit between two different airlines on a through ticket. Massive own goal to apply this to transit passengers.

      • KK says:

        EU ETA cost less, last 3 years and you can go to a wider range of countries.
        Many people I know dont come or dont bother spending in the UK cuz of the lack of tax free. 🙂

        • JP says:

          exactly. none of my family or friend’s families have bothered coming to the UK. They’ve taken their money to spend in Europe instead, whereas they used to come 3-6 times a year. I’ve spoken to Harrods and Selfridges and all of them say that they are in constant talks to get the tax free scheme back because there has been a huge dip in sales and retailers report a rise in EU sales.

          • dougzz99 says:

            Then why is London so full of tourists, particularly US? This is my own anecdote and represents zero facts.

          • Track says:

            Even with US tourists, a noticeable percentage of them will be put off by ETA.

            Plus typically, one has to disclose all past violations including driving offences probably from the age of 16.

          • Londonsteve says:

            A lack of tax free shopping doesn’t mean that no tourists visit London, it’s the loss of a relatively small group of very high spending (and therefore economically valuable) visitors that most of us barely see because they stay in top hotels and get chauffeured around the city. They’re not queing up to visit the Tower or taking snaps in front of Buckingham Palace, largely because they’ve been there and done that when they were younger.

    • NorthernLass says:

      So this is where I am a bit confused. Surely anyone who has entered ROI is then within the CTA and won’t need any other kind of visa to enter the UK? It was my understanding that there are no passport checks (unless the airline specifically requires you to carry a passport as ID, like FR)?

      • Brian says:

        The UK and Irish authorities share immigration intelligence. There are no passport checks for UK and Irish citizens, a citizen of any other country can be checked at anytime. If that sounds like a joke – it isn’t. When i last crossed via ferry, Irish immigration interrogated our car, the 2 UKCs in the car did not show ID, the two Americans in the car had to show their passports…

        • John says:

          When I went from NI to Scotland by ferry, I was interrogated on arrival by Scottish police, likely because I’m not white and I decided to present my driving licence (which shows a non-UK birthplace) to see what would happen. I did have my British passport with me but did not show it.

        • Michael says:

          Ireland does checks on the land border occasionally, usually on buses and trains. My colleague from Hong Kong had to be returned to NI to get his passport has he didn’t have it with him.

      • Mike says:

        Last time I flew back from Ireland the immigration person insisted they had to see a boarding card from the flight when I already had my passport in my hand. Had to get out my phone and go to the app.

        • John says:

          Which airport did you arrive to? LHR, LTN, and STN each have direct-to-baggage-hall gates for “domestic” and CTA arrivals.

          • Mike says:

            It was Liverpool, they insisted on not seeing my passport, had to be the boarding card.

      • jjoohhnn says:

        Yes. There are no physical borders to check people at, but it doesn’t remove the requirement to have the right documentation. Would you risk it for the sake of £10?

      • John says:

        No, the UK and Ireland have different visa regimes. Some citizenships need a visa to visit the UK even though they don’t need a visa to visit Ireland, and vice versa. Those people would be crossing the NI/ROI border illegally, and often do so unwittingly.

        Some people with Schengen visas may only be allowed to stay in one member state (or within ~30km of the border in the case of local traffic permits for RU/BY citizens, which are possibly currently suspended), or to stay in one member state indefinitely but visit others for 90 days in 180 days. People could easily break those rules too, as there are no routine checks.

      • Michael says:

        Home Office staff regularly do checks in departures in Belfast City Airport. They use the police podia at the back of security for passport checks, even when all the flights departing are domestic to GB, so I presume they are looking for those trying to access via the back door open land border.

    • Tim says:

      If they are are Dublin – I very much doubt they would fly to NI. They would just cross the invisible border by road or rail?

  • Mikeact says:

    I’ve just come back from a few days down in Cornwall……and there’s a hard core looking for total independence ….Newquay Airport will need updating !

  • Rui N. says:

    So all EEA people (except IE, as noted) will have to pay this? Yet another Brexit benefit I see to help our tourism industry.

    • NorthernLass says:

      There are supposed to be talks in the pipeline about waiving each other’s ETAs/ETIAs. After all, a lot more Brits take holidays in the EU than vice versa.

      • QwertyKnowsBest says:

        Tell me more, not seen any reference to this, but sounds a sensible idea.

      • John says:

        Yeah, Canada/US and Australia/NZ exempt each other from therir respective systems, and nobody has suggested Canada needs to be in a political union with the US or NZ joins Australia (which is allowed for in the Australian constitution) for 100+ years.

  • ChasP says:

    40 years ago I applied for a USA visa and at the end of the form under Cost it read
    “The USA charges foreign nationals the same as their country charges USA citizens for a visa”

  • BB says:

    Slightly OT, but I find it hard to believe that the UK still has no exit immigration checks. How do they know who is leaving the country? Most other countries have staffed immigration desks between check-in and security.

    • Mike says:

      You’re right it’s crazy we don’t do this. Even just machine reads of passports would be very useful. I suspect no government wants official figures on how many people overstay or a better estimate of the population/immigration. It would be political suicide for either party.

      • meta says:

        Yes, that is crazy. I think this quite rare
        in the world. I have friends working in social services who all tell me there is no way to track children taken out of the country against one parent’s wishes for example.

      • Track says:

        Then, introduce a parent or guardian-signed and notary-certified permission for children to travel, from both parents, as they do in some countries. I am sure parents will be thrilled.

        Moreover, make residents of other countries travelling to the UK to translate and put apostile on their notarised permissions.

        • Londonsteve says:

          Excellent idea. It’s how properly administered countries are generally run, by the way. Not the sloppy, laissez faire way that things are generally undertaken in the UK.

          • Rob says:

            Yes, OK …. you mean like South Africa, who tried this for a year in 2017/18 until it trashed their tourist industry?

            Where both parents are travelling with a child who is under 18:

            *All parents travelling with children under the age of 18 to or from South Africa must produce an unabridged birth certificate of each child which shows details of the parents of the child.

            Where one parent is travelling with a child, they must produce:

            *an unabridged birth certificate

            and either

            *consent in the form of an affidavit from the other parent registered as a parent on the birth certificate, authorising them to enter or depart from South Africa with the child


            *a court order granting them full parental responsibilities and rights or legal guardianship or where applicable, a death certificate of the other parent registered as a parent of the child on the birth certificate

            Where an adult is travelling with a child, who is not their biological child, they must produce:

            * a copy of the unabridged birth certificate of the child

            * an affidavit from the parents or legal guardian of the child confirming that they have permission to travel with the child

            * copies of the identity documents or passports of the parents or legal guardian of the child

      • John says:

        Err, Eurostar and international ferries do a machine read of your passports, and airlines are supposed to although some, particularly BA, seem to accept self-entered API.

    • Track says:

      Oh, God. In the age of AI, when your API is already transmitted by an airline to BF, and your face is recognised and recorded throughout the Heathrow.

      You want to have a series of booths, queues and e-gates to miss your flight…

      And by the way, where do you see those exit immigration checks to record anything — they scan your passport for data but they did not record anything.

      Child documents and passports also checked on both, ferry and airline.

      • John says:

        Australia uses exit checks to enforce outstanding warrants, unpaid fines, bail jumpers, court orders, etc

      • Track says:

        China or, God forbid, Russia use exit check to enforce unpaid fines and catch males aged 18-27 to serve in the military.

        Does not mean we should copy.

        • His Holyness says:

          Ukraine does the same thing. Anyone but pensioners are basically terrified to go back.

      • Track says:

        To add, if you want to enforce warrants and court orders, make those services work better and do their job.

        Not impose the externality (negative cost) and hindrance on EVERYONE, just because bailiffs do not want/not able to work with different databases.

      • Mike says:

        “they scan your passport for data but they did not record anything.”

        Haha, no.

      • Track says:

        Haha, yes.

        Australia, yes keeps a record on passport scan. However, most EU border guards visually inspect the passport or just machine-read it, no recording of travel information occurs in their booth.

        • John says:

          That’s why the EU is introducing EES!

          • Track says:

            Technically they don’t gain more info than API already collected by all airlines. Authorities in every EU country know exactly who is coming in.

            I doubt that EES will be connected in real time to Interpol or national databases to catch those with debts, fines and warrants.

    • yorkieflyer says:

      But strangely there is an exit check and swipe of your passport at St Pancras Eurostar. Anyone know why?

      • Track says:

        Eurostar collects passport info, and submit API of its own form to French authorities?

        It’s not that we don’t have exit checks in the UK completely, exit checks do happen for ferries, Eurotunnel and I woudn’t be surprised if they happen at St Pancras too.

        But there is absolutely no need to create additional sets of booths and queues at airports when your photo and all possible data are taken. That “exit check” can be completely automated and seamless.

        • Londonsteve says:

          There’s no incentive to not overstay your welcome in the UK when you know you can walk out of the country unchallenged. I doubt the UK does much with the data dump that constitutes API. In theory, if the police were searching for a wanted criminal they could interrogate the database and find when and where they exited the UK, but I’ll eat my hat if the Home Office cross checks how long everyone stayed in the UK versus their permitted time, so that they can intercept them and potentially deny them entry next time they try to enter the UK. With exit checks delinquents can be caught and questioned on exit, potentially not allowed to continue their journey if they’re otherwise wanted by the authorities. There’s a reason why every country I’ve ever travelled to has exit checks conducted by a government official, usually a border guard or police officer.

    • Tim says:

      As I understand it they get this data from the airline.

  • Tim Dadd says:

    If they use VFS to do the processing then they will be good at taking money and rubbish at providing a service

  • QFFlyer says:

    Re not applying if you have permission to live, work, etc. – I read that as being applicable to someone entering on a foreign passport (non UK/IE) but who holds British or Irish citizenship, would that be correct?

    If I enter the UK on my Aussie passport but can prove right of abode (as a British Citizen), that would be acceptable? Wondering as my UK passport is expiring and I can’t be bothered to renew it until I’m next there (technically it’s already over 10 years old, I’m in the useless 9 month extra window now, which only seems to be useful to let me into Hong Kong, since my eChannel registration is linked to it).

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