Fifteen years after the United States introduces the ESTA for short term visitors to the US, the United Kingdom is now piloting a similar system for non-British or Irish short-term visitors to the UK, starting with Qatari nationals. 

From 25 October 2023, Qatari visitors can apply for an ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’ (ETA), giving pre-arrival permission to travel to the UK. It will be mandatory for Qatari visitors from 15 November 2023. The rest of the world will follow in stages at different points in 2024. Those from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and UAE will follow in February 2024.

Marketed as a more efficient customer experience, this change will add a new layer of admin for those visiting the UK and add a new cost of £10 per person, including children. The ETA will be multi-entry and valid for 2 years or until expiry of a national passport, whichever is sooner. 

Once fully rolled-out, the ETA will be mandatory for all visitors to the UK who are not British, Irish or have a long-term visa for the UK or Ireland. It will also be required for those transiting through the UK. Applications should take less than 3 days to process and require use of an App to pay the fee, provide contact and passport information, upload a digital photo and answer some questions. The permission will be electronic only and no physical document will be required when crossing the UK border, other than the passport used for the application. If an ETA is refused, there is no right to appeal and the applicant will need to apply for a visa instead. 

If someone is required to hold an approved ETA (for example a Qatari national coming to the UK on 15 November 2023) and does not hold one linked to their presented passport at the airport, they will be refused boarding until they can show such permission. 

UK immigration law is constantly changing. It is important to take timely legal advice to reduce the risk of friction at the border and to ensure compliance with the UK immigration rules. If you have any questions in relation to UK immigration, please contact Paul McCarthy