Everything you should know about ETA: the new requirement to come to the U.K.

NAME : Axel Strauss
DATE: 31.10. 2023

The United Kingdom officially left the European Union on January 31st, 2020. This controversially game-changing move would become historically known as Brexit. And U.K. nationals living in and/or visiting Europe are still grappling with its many consequences.

Meanwhile, the British government is keeping calm, carrying on, and introducing some new entry requirements into the U.K. as of 2024. These requirements are set to be historically known as ETA. And if you’re planning a trip to the Kingdom in the near future, AXA has compiled a simple breakdown of what ETA is all about.

What travel documents do I need to enter the U.K.?

Let’s start with general travel to the U.K. Because ETA or no ETA, you can’t necessarily just waltz into Great Britain unannounced.

Generally speaking, to enter the U.K. you’ll need — at the very least — a valid passport and your itinerary.

However, the specific paperwork required will depend on a number of different factors. For example, the purpose, length, and particular nature of your trip (i.e., work, school, family, medical reasons, etc.), your nationality, and so on. And — especially depending on your nationality — you might also need a visa.

What countries can enter the U.K. without a visa?

Popular nationalities that don’t need a visa for short trips to the U.K. include Australia, Canada, and the U.S. Despite Brexit, you also don’t currently need one if you’re a citizen of any of the 27 Schengen member states and/or the 27 European Union nations, as well as Argentina, Brazil, and so on. The full list is actually quite extensive and includes over 150 countries.

Fortunately, you can get all the latest info regarding entry requirements for England on the U.K. government’s official website. There, you can also see whether your home country made the visa-free cut, as well as a full list — in red — of countries that do in fact need a visa.

What is the ETA to the U.K.?

Now down to brass tacks. ETA just stands for “Electronic Travel Authorisation.” And we’re not exactly sure whether it’s pronounced as one word or the three separate letters just yet (most likely the former, but only time will tell). What exactly ETA is, however, is pretty straightforward.

According to the U.K.’s official ETA website, it’s simply an electronic travel permit that grants non-U.K. nationals permission to go to the U.K. They also add that “a valid ETA allows travellers from eligible nations to visit Great Britain for a number of different purposes without acquiring a visa.”

The idea behind ETA, meanwhile, is not wholly unique. And neither are the reasons for it (more on those below). For instance, the EU has been working on — and repeatedly postponing — its own version of an “ETA” since 2016 (aka ETIAS, set to go into effect in 2025, according to the official source).

It, of course, remains unclear whether the post-Brexit Kingdom is taking a cue from post-Brexit Europe here or vice versa. But chances are that both were somewhat inspired by the good old U.S. of A., who introduced their Electronic System for Travel Authorization — aka ESTA — way back in 2008. Moreover, Australia, Canada,* and New Zealand already have similar systems in place too.

*FUN FACT / PRO TIP: Canada’s version of the Electronic Travel Authorization system— introduced back in 2015 — is also known as eTA. But don’t panic. To avoid confusion, just remember that the Canadian “e” in “eTA” is lowercase, and their version of “authorization” is spelled with a “z” (as opposed to Britain's “s”). When it comes to pronunciation though — again, you’re on your own.

What is the difference between an ETA and a visa?

According to the official website, the UK ETA is “part of a wider permission to travel policy.” All non-U.K. nationals will, therefore, “need to obtain permission to enter the U.K.,” and “such permission may be in the form of a traditional visa or, for non-visa-nationals, an ETA.” In other words, the UK ETA is not a visa. And that means that European nationals — as well as travelers from Australia, Canada, the U.S., and so on — will need a UK ETA to cross the U.K. border (even while maintaining their visa-free status).

Why is UK ETA needed?

There are two main drivers behind ETA. According to the blog of the U.K. government’s official Home Office, “the government’s number one priority is keeping the UK safe.” Thus, ETA is being introduced — first and foremost — “to strengthen the security of our (i.e., the U.K.’s) border.

Secondly, ETA is a key factor in the country’s plans to “fully digitalise its borders by 2025.” The blog goes on to explain that “UK ETA holders will simply need to scan the passport they used to apply on arrival at the border,” after which “the entry permit will be verified electronically.”

Who needs an ETA to enter the U.K.?

As of November 15th, 2023, citizens of Qatar must have an ETA to enter the U.K. Meanwhile, nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates can apply from February 2024.

As for other countries, the official website states that “there is currently no date for when all other visa-exempt nationalities should apply for the ETA UK.” Thus, they recommend that “travellers should stay up to date with UK immigration changes to ensure they apply at the right time.

Do U.K. citizens need an ETA?

No. British and Irish citizens — or those who already have a valid visa or immigration status to enter the U.K. — do not currently have to apply.

NOTE: But just so we’re clear, U.K. nationals will need to apply for an eTA for Canada from the U.K., as — again — that’s a totally separate thing.

How do I get a UK ETA?

First off, you’re going to need:

  • A valid passport
  • A working email address
  • A credit or debit card (to pay the ETA fee)

Next, you’ll need to fill in and complete the ETA application form. You’ll be asked to answer a few personal, security, and travel questions. All the information provided must be correct and exactly the same as on the documents provided.

Then you’ll be asked to pay (with a credit or debit card). And then — in theory — you’ll receive the approved U.K. ETA by email.

NOTE: Everyone traveling in a group must hold a valid U.K. visa or visa waiver, including children. Responsible adults may apply on behalf of a child.

Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row, you can start the process here.

How much does a U.K. ETA cost?

It costs £10 (ten pounds, or roughly $12.42 / €11,55) to apply for a U.K. ETA. That includes babies and children. And the ETA application fee is not refundable.

How long does it take to get an ETA?

The whole process shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes and can be done fully online. However, this is as of yet theoretical — since the system is still mostly in the works.

How long does the ETA last?

Depending on the purpose of your trip, you can use the UK ETA to stay in the U.K. for:

  • up to 6 months for holidays, visiting friends and family, business trips, and/or study trips;
  • up to 3 months on the Creative Worker visa concession (i.e., temporary work)

Once you’re approved, your ETA will also be valid for multiple journeys for up to 2 years.

IMPORTANT NOTE: An ETA is also required to transit through British airports for other destinations.

And, finally — keep in mind that AXA always does its best to provide you with the latest travel requirements both near and far. However, our specialty, primary concern, and area of expertise remains to provide first-class, affordable, quality Schengen travel insurance for you and your family (including not one but two insurance plans for the U.K.!)

So to learn more and stay up-to-date as to what’s happening with UK ETA, make sure to double-check with the official channels. And good luck!

Related Articles:

Is ETA and ESTA the same thing?

No. While both abbreviations essentially mean the same thing - ETA is for the U.K. while ESTA is for the U.S.

What about ETA and eTA — are they the same thing?

Also no. While both abbreviations mean the exact same thing- the former (ETA) is for the U.K.- and the latter (eTA) is for Canada. There are a few grammatical nuances to each as well.

Do I need to print my UK ETA travel authorization?

No. In theory (and according to the official sources) “UK ETA holders will simply need to scan the passport they used to apply on arrival at the border. The entry permit will be verified electronically.”

Can you get an ETA at the airport?

In theory yes. ETAs can be obtained via a smartphone or tablet. This means that you should be able to get one at the airport — provided you have internet. But keep in mind that while most applications are set to be approved within minutes- some might take several days to process. So it’s best to plan ahead.