With the recent announcement that the United Kingdom (UK) will be rolling out an Electronic Travel Authorisation UK (ETA UK)—essentially a digital permission slip to enter the country that Americans and other international visitors will have to acquire online before arriving—I’m here with a simple message:
Keep calm and travel on.
There’s no need to panic, everything is going to be okay and, in fact, it’s probably going to end up being no big deal at all.
That’s assuming the ETA UK ends up being anything like the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) that the United States has been requiring of international travelers since 2009.
The good news is that, according to the UK Government, the intention is for the ETA UK process to be very similar to the US version.
As an American who lives in the UK and is married to a British citizen, I’ve had a front-row seat over the years as my wife has navigated the ESTA process before trips to the US.
If there’s one phrase that best sums up the experience, it would be “easy breezy”.
While final details are yet to be released, you can rest assured that acquiring the ETA UK is not going to be some long, complicated process that will require the blessing of the King or David Beckham.
It’s going to be an online application that will likely just take a few minutes.
If it’s like the ESTA process, you’ll simply log on to the ETA UK site, enter your details, pay a small fee and then receive your approval e-mail very soon after.
(Unless of course you’re deemed a security threat to the UK. But you’re not a security threat to the UK, are you?)
Then, a little while later, you’ll go on your trip and have a ball.
I know that anything new is scary, especially something as official-sounding as the Electronic Travel Authorisation UK, so if you’re still not convinced, consider the following:
You’ll probably receive a gentle reminder of the need to acquire an ETA UK by the airline you purchase your UK-bound flight with (again, using my wife’s experience with ESTA here), so there’s no need to fret that you’ll forget about it. In fact, they will probably be under a legal obligation to make sure that passengers have one before boarding.
If you’re working with a travel advisor, they will definitely remind you! Or, depending on the rules, they just might take care of the whole process for you.
Eventually, checking that you’ve taken care of your ETA UK will probably become second nature pre-trip, just like double-checking your flight dates & time and researching awesome things to do when you get here.
Only now you’ll be checking to make sure you’ve got your ETA UK taken care of or if the existing one you have is still valid. (They are expected to be valid for two years just like the US version—but this has not yet been confirmed).
This is all part of the process that is set to see the UK fully digitizing its border systems by 2025, so perhaps this new hoop you’ll have to jump through will eventually pay off in the form of smoother, quicker entries into the UK.
And if that’s not enough, there’s the “everybody else is doing it” angle. The US has ESTA, the European Union is launching ETIAS, so why shouldn’t the UK screen who boards an inbound plane in advance and recoup some costs along the way, too?
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