London's Big Ben and the Union Jack, the United Kingdom's national flag. (Photo via Getty Images)
In line with its objective of fully digitizing border systems by 2025, the United Kingdom (U.K.) will soon require inbound international travelers to obtain a British entry permit document, called the Electronic Travel Authorisation UK (ETA UK).
It should be noted that ETA UK approval will be mandatory for all foreign visitors looking to enter or transit the UK, including those who are nationals of visa-free countries, including the United States.
In its announcement, the U.K. government confirmed, “The ETA is not a visa. Europeans and travellers from countries including the US and Canada will maintain their visa-free status but will need an ETA to cross the UK border.” And, the requirement will apply to all types of visitors, including, “those traveling to the UK for tourism, business, short-term education and medical reasons.
The ETA system is intended to improve U.K. border control measures, and optimize its entry and exit processes, as part of a wider “permission to travel” policy.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously stated that the new system will provide authorities with more accurate migration information. In short, implementation of the ETA UK will work by screening travelers before they arrive in the country, which will also help catch potential security threats earlier.
Currently, information on the number of people traveling to the UK and their countries of origin are based on surveys conducted at ports of entry, which doesn’t provide accurate figures.
And, while it might look restrictive on the surface, it seems as though the change could also be beneficial for travelers, at least in terms of ease and convenience. You’ll be able to apply from home without having to visit a UK Embassy and the application form should take only a few minutes to fill out.
You’ll need to provide your valid passport data, some personal information, travel plan details, and a debit or credit card, as a small fee is sure to be attached.
Thanks to the wonders of technology, applications will be processed automatically, with ETA officials getting involved only when complex decision-making and reviews are called for. Most people will receive their ETA UK authorization quickly, within 48 to 72 hours.
Big Ben and and the Houses of Parliament, London, United Kingdom. (Photo via extravagantni/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
The British government also noted the similarities between the forthcoming ETA UK requirement and the United States’ existing Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and the European Union’s planned digital visa waiver program European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), the release of which has been delayed until November 2023, according to The Points Guy’s report.
It actually stated that the ETA UK is, in fact, based on the US ESTA scheme. So, while the details about the sanctioned length of stays have yet to be released, the digital authorization will likely be valid for at least two years and multiple trips. As things currently stand, most visa-free visitors are allowed to remain in the UK for up to six months or two years, with a visa.
The British Home Office has not released a specific date for the launch of the online process, and applications have not yet opened. The U.K. government has said that the ETA system will be introduced in early 2023, becoming fully operational by the end of the year.
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