Starting next year, travelers heading to the United Kingdom will need to take a few extra planning steps before hopping the pond. The U.K. is in the process of introducing a new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system that will require travelers, including those from visa-free countries such as the United States, to obtain permission to travel to the U.K. ahead of arrival.
“We are introducing a universal ‘permission to travel’ requirement, which will require everyone wishing to travel to the U.K. (except British and Irish citizens) to seek permission in advance of travel,” the British government explains in a fact sheet about the forthcoming ETA system.
Similar to the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) that will be required for travel into the European Schengen Zone starting in November 2023, the U.K.’s ETA system will be in place by the end of 2024 as part of a plan to fully digitize the borders by 2025, according to the government.
Travelers will need to provide basic personal information, their travel details, passport data, a valid email address, and some security information via an online ETA application form. According to the U.K. government, there will be a fee associated with the application, though it hasn’t yet divulged what the fee will be. (A credit or debit card will also be needed to complete the application and pay the fee.)
To be clear, the ETA is not a visa, rather it is digital permission to enter the United Kingdom.
“The scheme will give the U.K. more control of our borders, allowing us to block threats from entering the U.K., whilst also providing individuals, and carriers, with more assurance at an earlier point in time about their ability to travel to the U.K.,” the government stated.
The ETA will be required for anyone traveling the U.K. for leisure travel, business, short-term study, or for a medical procedure. Those planning to work or reside in Britain long-term will need to obtain the appropriate visa, according to ETA UK, which will ultimately be the online resource for completing ETA requests once the system is up and running.
ETA UK estimates that applications will be processed within 48 to 72 hours and that visitors will generally be allowed to spend up to 180 days (6 months) in the U.K. and visit any part of the country once the ETA is obtained.