UK Announces Electronic Travel Authorization Scheme for GCC Countries

Published on: 09 March 2023

Today, 9 March 2023, the UK government has published information about the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) scheme, which will become a new requirement for travelers who do not need a visa to enter the UK. And Qatari nationals will be the first to be able to apply to an ETA from October 2023 —one month before the ETA becomes mandatory for them. 

The rest of the GCC states (Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), as well as Jordan, will be included in the scheme from February 2024. ETA will then expand to all visa-exempt countries worldwide, including EU countries, Australia, and the United States of America. 

It will not affect:

  • British or Irish nationals, as well as legal residents of Ireland traveling to the UK from within the Common Travel Area
  • Residents of Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man
  • People with valid UK visas or valid permits to live, work, or study in the UK

In a news story on the official UK government’s website, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick explained that ETA is meant to strengthen the UK borders in terms of security by avoiding the entry of people who may pose a threat to the country, such as criminals. Yet, it is also intended to facilitate travel for legitimate visitors. 

In fact, the Home Office has informed that the ETA application process will be quick and simple. It will require the applicant to deliver biometric data and to answer suitability questions on digital platforms (the UK government’s website or a mobile app). After that, the applicant will most likely receive a decision within 3 working days (provided that further checks aren’t necessary). Once obtained, it will be linked electronically with the holder’s passport. 

The Home Office also said that for Qatari visitors, the ETA implies the benefit of being a more cost-effective option to travel to the UK, in comparison to the Electronic Visa Waiver scheme, which requires travelers from GCC countries to pay for a single-use visit. 

Instead, ETA will only require a one-time payment and will allow multiple short-stay visits in a 2-year period (up to 6 months for visiting family and friends, tourism, study, and business purposes, and up to 3 months on the Creative Worker visa concession). ETA will also be a valid permission to enter the UK when the holder is in transit through the UK. It will fully replace the current Electronic Visa Waiver scheme. 

Although the UK authorities didn’t mention a specific fee for ETA, they informed that ETA application fees would be close to the ones involved in similar international schemes. They also clarified that all visa-exempt travelers should apply for their own ETA, including children.

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