Business travel to the UK is currently straightforward for individuals who do not require a visa to visit the UK (non-visa nationals). No prior permission to travel is needed from the UK immigration authorities, provided the purpose of the business trip is covered by the visitor rules. However, that is set to change with the UK's new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme (similar to the US ESTA scheme) being rolled out in stages from mid-November this year.

Under the ETA scheme non-visa nationals will have to complete an application in advance of travel. The EU is introducing a similar scheme (ETIAS) - which will apply to British and other non-EU nationals.

Employers will need to be aware of these additional travel requirements when arranging business travel for staff to the UK, or to certain European countries. Advance planning will be needed to avoid any disruption to business travel. 

UK ETA scheme

What is the ETA scheme and who is it for?

In short, an ETA is a digital permission to travel. It will be required by all non-visa nationals coming to the UK for up to:

  • six months as a visitor (including transit visitors)
  • three months on the Creative Worker visa concession.

This means that those who do not need to apply for a visitor visa in advance of travelling to the UK currently will now have to apply for permission to travel through the scheme. 

A list of visa nationals (i.e. those who do need a visa to travel to the UK) can be found here.

When is it coming into force?

The ETA scheme is being gradually introduced for nationals of different countries in stages. 

  • Qatari nationals will need to apply for an ETA for travel to the UK on or after 15 November 2023. Applications will open from 25 October 2023.
  • Nationals from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will need to apply for ETAs from 1 February 2024 for any travel to the UK on or after 22 February 2024. 

Further countries are expected to be subject to the scheme in due course.

How long will applications take?

The Home Office advises that decisions are usually received within three working days, although applications may take longer if further checks are required (e.g. where someone has an adverse immigration history or a criminal record).

If ETA applications are refused, the individuals will need to apply for the appropriate visa instead (potentially a standard visa, transit visa, or a temporary work (creative worker) visa as relevant).

How much will an ETA cost?

Applications will cost £10 per applicant.

How long does an ETA last?

Once applications have been granted, the ETA will last for two years (unless an individual's passport expires sooner).

European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

What is the ETIAS and who is it for?

Like an ETA, an ETIAS is a digital permission to travel. It will be required by visa exempt nationals of the countries listed here (including British nationals) travelling to one of the 30 European countries listed here which include all EU countries (except Ireland), plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Individuals with EU passports will not have to apply through the ETIAS.

When is it coming into force?

The scheme is expected to come into force in 2024. Precise details of when, and how the scheme will be brought into effect are awaited.

How long will applications take?

The Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs advises that most decisions will be made within minutes, but some applications may take longer, and those decisions will normally be made within four days. If further checks or documentation are required, applications may take up to 14 days, or up to 30 days if the individual is required to attend an interview.

If ETIAS applications are refused, the individual should receive details of how to appeal. It will not be possible to travel without obtaining an ETIAS.

How much will an ETIAS cost?

Applications will cost €7 per applicant with some exemptions.

How long does an ETIAS last?

Once applications have been granted, an ETIAS will last for three years (unless an individual's passport expires in less than three years).

What does this mean for employers?

Employers arranging business travel for staff to the UK, or to certain European countries should continue to be aware that:

  • Some nationals will need to obtain a relevant visitor visa before travelling.
  • Non-visa (or visa-exempt) nationals will soon need to apply for their ETA or ETIAS permission to travel. 

Employers will need to ensure that staff are aware of the new requirements and factor in sufficient time before travel, so that staff members can obtain the permission or visa required in advance.

Similarly, time will need to be factored in, if an individual's application is refused, to allow:

  • in the case of an ETA, for the individual to apply for and obtain the relevant visa instead (legal advice may be required in these circumstances)
  • in the case of an ETIAS, for the business to appeal that decision or make alternative arrangements if the individual is not permitted to travel. 

If any employee is intending to travel who has a criminal record, or adverse immigration history (perhaps if they have previously been refused a visa), again additional time may be needed in case further details are requested by the relevant authorities before the travel permission is granted. 

More information

For more information on any of the issues discussed in this blog, please contact Elaine McIlroy or Gregor Murphy

Further information on the ETA scheme is available here and the ETIAS scheme here


Gregor Craig-Murphy

Senior Solicitor