The United Kingdom is one of the most popular European destinations for Americans and Canadians, not only due to language but also deep cultural and historical ties – after all, North America was mostly settled by the Britons.
Though they will continue to be welcomed in the U.K. in the future, the country is set to change its entry rules from 2024, affecting all foreign visitors, including U.S. and Canada passport holders traveling as short-term tourists.
But how is exactly travel to Britain changing, and what can you expect if you’re a visitor?
Everything You Need To Know About The U.K.’s New Entry Rules
From 2024, the U.K. is finally launching its Electronic Travel Authorization scheme (alternatively spelled Authorisation in British variants of English), or ETA, a new entry permit applying to all foreigners who currently enjoy visa-free access to the country.
Essentially, unless they are holders of a valid ETA, Americans and Canadians will not be permitted to board U.K.-bound flights. Simply carrying a valid passport, and presenting it at the check-in desk, will no longer suffice.
Why is the U.K. tightening entry rules, and why are Americans and Canadians specifically affected?
First of all, electronic travel authorizations are not a novelty. They have been around for years, and though not that many Americans are aware, their own country requires a similar document of Brits, Europeans, and several other foreign nationals.
British citizens are forbidden from flying to the United States unless carrying a pre-approved ESTA, as well as their European counterparts. Canada is no different, having launched its own ETA upon the introduction of the States’ own system years ago.
Travel authorizations are also common in Australia, New Zealand, and across Asia, though the U.K. never enforced them – until now.
When Will The Travel Authorization Be Implemented?
From 2024, the ‘biggest’ revamp of Britain’s immigration system the British Home Office has pursued ‘in several decades’ is set to take place, bringing the country in line with its Western counterparts.
The British ETA is only a series of measures aimed at strengthening the country’s outer borders, which includes the maintenance of strict checks between Britain and the European Union, more conservative anti-migration rhetoric, and less generous asylum policies.
It is surely an additional hurdle, but it is worth noting it is by no means a visitor visa. An ETA is a lot simpler to apply, as you will know if you have ever traveled to a country where similar systems are in place.
Unlike visas, which require you to submit documentation, attend an interview, pay a hefty fee, and surrender your passport, an ETA is a simplified online form easily filled-out in under ten minutes or less, where you’re asked a set of personal questions and your passport number.
Travel authorizations are issued almost instantly as well, straight to your e-mail, and Britain’s will be no different.
According to the Home Office, we should in fact see this as good news, as it will ‘streamline’ the process of visiting the U.K. and ensure those who pose a threat are refused entry.
This may refer to individuals with a significant criminal record who may pose a danger to the public, terrorists, and non-residents who had overstayed a tourist visa before.
Other Important Information
The cost of applying is only £10 (British pounds), or roughly US$13, being in fact much cheaper than the States’ ESTA ($21).
U.S. and Canadian citizens will only need to apply for ETAs once every two years, and as long as they hold a permit in the course of validity, they can make multiple trips to the U.K. as long as each stay does not exceed the permitted six months.
It is expected that Americans and Canadians will still be allowed to use the eGate lanes arriving at Britain’s major entry points.
This means they may continue scanning their passport entering into the U.K. without speaking to border agents, but they will be denied boarding unless producing a valid ETA, or they may face criminal charges should they ever manage to reach the U.K. border and cross it without a valid ETA.
The exact launch date of the ETA has not yet been revealed, though citizens of Qatar, then Gulf Countries and the Kingdom of Jordan will already be subject to the new entry rules starting in October of this year and February 2024, respectively.
The global roll-out is set for late 2024.
ETA Set To Change U.K. Border System Forever
According to Cara Aikman, Lead Technology Product Manager, the ETA has received ‘good reviews’ during early tests in Qatar and the UAE, and developers have used a lot of what they have learned to ‘inform future modifications’, in order to ensure the user experience is as good as can be.
Project manager Vikki Lacey said the service will make business and leisure travel easier, cheaper and more efficient, and is expected to prove popular with travelers from the region.
Applicants who are refused an ETA for any reason, despite coming from visa-exempt countries, may be required to apply for a visa at a British Consulate in their home country or country of residence, or a single-entry Electronic Visa, if they qualify under the Electronic Visa Waiver scheme.
Friendly advice — Fill out your form carefully not to get a refusal.
ETIAs will apply not only to Canadians and Americans, but any foreigner who currently is exempt from applying for a visa visiting the United Kingdom, including citizens of the European Union (except Ireland), Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Brazil, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, and several others.
In possession of a valid ETA, tourists are free to travel across the historic nations of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Those who need a tourist visa to enter the U.K. do not qualify for an ETA and must apply for a full visa at a British Consulate.
On Travel To Northern Ireland
The Republic of Ireland currently does not carry out immigration checks along the land border with the U.K. in Northern Ireland, and it is not expected to introduce a similar Travel Authorization system anytime soon.
Despite the absence of border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., tourists are strongly discouraged from attempting to visit Northern Ireland without holding an ETA, as they would then be in breach of U.K. immigration law and could face consequences when caught.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com