How will French/British couples be affected by UK’s ETA scheme?

A digital border scheme similar to the EU’s new controls is set to launch for Europeans next year

Currently only a limited number of nations are affected by the new border rules

Reader Question: I am British but my wife is French (we live permanently in France). As the partner of a British national, is she affected by the new digital border scheme in the UK? Will she need to apply for any kind of permission?

A new digital border scheme, the ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation), has partially come into force in the UK.

It is similar to the EU’s incoming EES and Etias controls, and will see those coming to the UK for short-stays without a visa having to apply in advance for permission to enter the country, as well as providing biometric data at the border.

Read more: New European Entry/Exit System: 9 key things to know in advance

Currently the scheme is only in place for nationals from certain Gulf States and Middle 

Eastern countries but will eventually be rolled out to all nationalities that are visa-exempt for short stays, including France and the rest of the EU. 

It will also be required for those transiting at a UK airport even if not going through border control.

Nationals from countries which already require a visa to enter the UK will not be affected by the changes.

It was originally set to come into force for all non-UK nationals (other than Irish) from 2024, but is now expected to launch in 2025 for European nationals. 

The current cost of an ETA is £10 – expected to remain the same in 2025. It lasts for two years, or until the end of your current passport (whichever date is earlier). 

Read more: 7 reader questions on new France/UK border checks answered

Very few exceptions exist

In general, everyone who currently has visa-free access to enter the UK will need to apply for an ETA. Only a few exceptions exist.

Those who will not need an ETA are:

  • UK citizens (including British overseas territory citizens or passport holders)

  • Irish citizens

  • Those who already have a valid visa to enter the UK

  • Those with prior permission to work or study in the UK

  • Those who have legal resident status in the UK 

In addition, those from nations that do not currently require a visa to enter the UK (most EU countries, the US, Australia etc) who hold legal resident status in the Republic of Ireland will not need to apply for an ETA, as long as they can provide proof of their Irish residency.

As you do not mention your wife having British citizenship or a UK visa, we assume when she visits the UK she does so as a tourist, so for a short-stay visit and that she does not work or engage in any professional activity. 

Full details for EU nationals and European family members of British citizens have not been announced, but in your case, it seems likely that your French spouse will need to apply for an ETA in advance of entering the UK

Once granted the ETA authorisation lasts two years before having to be renewed (as long as your wife’s passport is valid for at least this period).

Read more: UK/France border plans 'completely unsatisfactory' ministers told

Warning over scams

Visitors are also being warned over an increasing number of scams revolving around the scheme.

A large number of websites are offering to ‘help’ people with the application process but are charging far more than is required, or tricking people who do not currently need the visa. 

The only official route to apply for an ETA is via the UK government website, which also contains more information about the scheme.