In brief

As part of the UK government's universal "permission to travel" requirement, an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme will be introduced for individuals (except British and Irish citizens) visiting the UK who do not currently need a visa for short stays or do not have an immigration status prior to travelling. The scheme will be rolled out in stages starting from January 2023 with the aim to be fully operational by the end of 2024. The ETA scheme is being implemented to strengthen security checks at an earlier stage and to block those deemed a possible threat from entering the UK.

The ETA scheme is expected to be rolled out in the following stages:

  • Quarter 1: First release — private beta testing
  • Late Quarter 1 to early Quarter 3: Second release — Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia
  • Late Quarter 2 onward: Third release - rest of the world

What this means for passengers visiting the UK

  • What is an ETA? An ETA is not a visa. It is a digital travel authorisation similar to the systems used in other countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, from November 2023, the EU — under the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) — to keep their countries safe and secure.
  • Who needs an ETA? The ETA Scheme will apply to non-visa nationals who can enter the UK without a visa for visiting or transiting, such as those from the USA, EEA, Canada, etc. The scheme will not apply to British and Irish citizens or to those who have already obtained a visa or immigration status in electronic form prior to travel, as they will have already completed the various security checks during the visa application process.
  • How to apply for an ETA: The applications will be made online via dedicated website and will be similar to the systems used by other countries.
  • When to apply: The application should be made and approved before travelling to the UK. Carriers will be expected to verify the status of passengers to ensure that they have the appropriate permission to travel before entering the UK.
  • Is there a fee? A collection of a fee for the application is envisaged and this will be announced in due course.
  • Considerations: The scheme is still under development and full guidance has not been released. Employers should ensure that relevant employees obtain an ETA before travelling to the UK.