Passengers in the arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, on Friday December 23, 2022.
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The UK will require all visa-exempt travelers to apply for a digital travel authorization before entering the country, a move seen as the biggest shake to its border security rules in decades.
Those with passports who are currently entering the country without prior verification — including European Union citizens and U.S., Canadian, Japanese, Australian, New Zealand and other nationals — are all required to apply for and pay for an electronic travel authorization. The program is expected to be fully rolled out by the end of 2024.
British and Irish passport holders, those with UK residency status and those with ‘permission to live, work or study’ are exempt from the scheme.
The government says the ETA system will strengthen border security and is comparable to that of countries like the US and Canada. The UK has previously said it does not have fully accurate data on the number of people entering and leaving the country under current regulations.
The cost of the ETA has not been confirmed but is expected to be of a similar magnitude to these programs. The US Electronic System for Travel Authorization costs $21.
The European Union is expected to launch its own digital travel authorization system called ETIAS for visa-exempt nationals in 2024. It will allow travel within 30 countries.
Travelers from some countries are said to have smoother access to the UK. The program will be launched for Qatari citizens in November when it replaces the electronic visa waiver program and will be expanded to Jordanian citizens in February 2024.
However, this is a significant change for many frequent travelers from Europe and elsewhere who currently do not require pre-approval.
The application is made online or via an app. People with biometric passports scan them with their phones and may also be required to take a “dynamic selfie” with motion to submit a picture of their face. They will also answer a series of questions.
Your application will be processed automatically and a decision will be made within three days. Some applications are processed faster. If approved, the ETA is valid for multiple visits over a two-year period.
Nationals who are currently able to use e-passport gates on arrival in the UK will still be able to do so with an ETA.
Anyone arriving at the UK border by plane or train without an ETA will be turned away, even if arriving via Ireland but not an Irish or British citizen.
The government has previously said it expects to process 30 million ETA applications a year.
It is understood that the UK has ambitions to eventually require all travelers to submit biometric fingerprints before travel and is working on a system that would involve smartphone submission.