Stock UAE- UK travel
Planning a repeat visit to the UK? If you are a UAE or GCC national, things are getting a lot easier. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: From February 22, citizens of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states can experience hassle-free processing on their next travel plans to the UK.

The UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system - a visa-free process that allows repeat visits to Britain under a single approval - will be made available for UAE and Gulf citizens starting February 22, the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has said.

The ETA replaced the Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) system on February 1, and comes across as a faster and easier way to travel to the UK. Apart from GCC citizens, it is also open for Jordanian nationals.

Stays of up to 6 months

Emiratis travelling to the UK under the ETA system are allowed to stay in the country for up to 6 months, and their purpose of stay could include tourism or visiting friends and family, transit, business, and short-term study.

“The ETA is an improvement on the EVW, costs 10 pounds (Dh46.2) and permits multiple journeys to the UK over two years or until the holder’s passport expires, whichever is sooner,” a spokesperson for the UKVI told ‘Gulf News’. (The UKVI is a division of the Home Office responsible for the UK’s visa system.)

How to apply for Electronic Travel Authorization
Most applicants will receive a response within three working days, with many receiving a result sooner.

The easiest way to apply for an ETA is through the ‘UK ETA app’. To apply for an ETA, individuals must pay a fee of 10 pounds, provide contact and passport details, provide a valid photo, and answer a set of questions.

Will it cover UAE expats too?

Expatriates residing in UAE will continue to enter the UK in line with the current immigration requirements for their nationality, confirmed the spokesperson.

“The scheme will eventually apply to all other nationalities who do not require a visa to come to the UK,” said the spokesperson. “Timings for when other nationalities must apply will be confirmed in due course, and sufficient time will be given to prepare.”

UAE and Gulf nationals could apply for the ETA starting February 1, but the visa-free travel system will be accessible for travellers from February 22.

Travel boom to the UK

UAE-based travel agents operating in the UK market said the scheme's expansion to other countries poses a ‘significant step forward’.

The Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) programme was launched for Emirati and other Gulf nationals in 2014.

“With the new ETA system, the biggest benefit is the significant cost reduction (of £10) compared to the Dh138.8 travellers were paying before under the EVW programme,” said Afi Ahmed, Chairman of Smart Travels.

“The UK continues to retain its position as a top business and leisure destination for UAE citizens. The demand continues to rise, and initiatives like the ETA give travellers an additional boost in confidence.”

Though the scheme is not open to many non-UAE citizens, the demand for travel to the UK continues to enjoy an upward streak.

According to Sapna Aidasani, Marketing Director at Pluto Travels, destinations like Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen also draw travellers looking to travel more offbeat paths. “Moreover, many parents travel to the UK yearly to drop their kids to school/college in Britain,” said Sapna.

Last year, the UK welcomed nearly 800,000 visitors from the Gulf. In 2022, the UK welcomed 379,517 visits from the UAE despite the pandemic-triggered restrictions and passenger caps at London’s Heathrow International Airport.

In 2019, UAE travellers made 3.8 million outbound visits, with a total international tourism expenditure of $26.7 billion. Moreover, 39 per cent of visitors from the UAE were British nationals, while 25 per cent were Emiratis in 2022, according to Visit Britain.

The UAE Ambassador to the UK Mansoor Abulhoul said, “The new scheme is set to enhance the people-to-people connections (between the UAE and the UK), bringing mutual economic benefits and exchange of ideas across various fields including culture, science and policy. It will make travel to Britain more seamless, affordable, and convenient.”

UK visas for non-UAE nationals

Travel agents have declared the UK a 'hot' destination for UAE residents, including business travel demand. According to travel agents and airlines, most flights from the UAE to the UK operate at maximum capacity.

According to aviation analytics firm OAG, Dubai International Airport (DXB) and London Heathrow are the busiest airports for international flights in February 2024. The busiest airport is Dubai International, with a capacity of 4.7 million seats (compared to 4.6 million last year). And London Heathrow Airport (LHR) is in second place with 3.6 million seats (4 million seats in 2023), 30 per cent lower than Dubai International (DXB).

Mamoun Hmedan, Chief Business Officer at Wego, said, “The UK has been and continues to be the dominant European destination out of the Middle East, occupying the number one spot for 17 months in a row.” Hmedan said the UK looks poised to continue to dominate in 2024.