The UK Border

uk border control

The UK border has numerous controls and restrictions that must be followed when entering the country. Britain welcomes thousands of visitors to its shores every year and the majority enjoy a smooth and secure process when passing through the national border controls

If travelling with a United Kingdom visa or visa waivers such as a UK eTA or EVW it is essential to know what to expect when arriving on British soil. To help explain what happens when crossing the UK border this article looks at the different ways in which foreign travellers:

  • Should pass through UK border control
  • May enter the country
  • Visit the UK after Brexit

Crossing the border into the UK: What to expect

All passengers entering the United Kingdom must present their identity documents to the UK Border Force. In order to meet necessary security standards to enter the country, arrivals into the country should:

  • Have their passport or identity card and any types of UK visas or visa waivers ready for inspection
  • Remove sunglasses or any other non-religious items that obscure their face
  • If you are travelling as a family group, proceed together to the control desk

If for any reason a passenger is refused entry by the Border Force official on duty they will receive written notification on the reasons. They will also usually need to leave the UK immediately.

Entering the UK by air

Most arrivals to the United Kingdom enter the country by air travel. The country has around 40 commercial airports and features some of Europe’s busiest transport hubs for airlines.

The countries biggest regional airports include:

  • London Heathrow International
  • London Gatwick International
  • London Luton
  • London City
  • London Stanstead
  • London Southend
  • Manchester
  • Liverpool John Lennon
  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Newcastle
  • Belfast
  • Edinburgh
  • Glasgow

All air passengers must be checked by a member of the UK Border Force before they may leave the airport and travel around British territory. To do so, visitors must first pass through customs and immigration to ensure security criteria and eligibility requirements to enter the country are met.

Using the airport e-gates

Travellers with biometric ePassports from eligible countries may use the electronic gates to enter the United Kingdom. This is often quicker than queueing to be checked by a border guard.

Arrivals from the following countries may use the e-gates:

  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • The USA

However, air passengers should be mindful that in order to use the e-gates, they mustn’t be travelling with children under 12 years old. At present European Union (EU) and travellers with EEA passports may also use the e-gates. However, this may change in 2021 when Britain leaves the EU’s jurisdiction.

Arriving in the UK by sea

The UK is an island and therefore welcomes many visitors via its busy sea and ferry ports. The busiest international passenger ports in the United Kingdom include:

  • The Port of Dover
  • Portsmouth Port
  • The Port of Holyhead
  • The Port of Tyne
  • Harwich International Port
  • The Port of Hull

Similarly to air travellers, passengers arriving at seaports in Britain will need to be checked by the UK Border Force before being allowed to enter the country. As detailed above, they will examine identity documents such as passports and will evaluate whether the arriving person is eligible to enter the country.

Entering the UK by car or bus

Thousands of tourists and visitors enter the UK each year by either car or bus. As with arriving at any destination in the UK from abroad, passengers should have their travel documents ready to be checked by the UK Border Force.

In the case of arriving in a private or commercial vehicle, the driver and passengers should be prepared to exit the vehicle in case of inspections. If arriving by bus, all riders must disembark to present their passports at the border control point into the country.

At present, the UK has mutual agreements in place to perform customs and immigration checks before drivers and travellers arrive on British soil. This usually takes place in countries like France and Holland. This may change once the UK has fully left the EU in 2021.

Crossing the UK border after Brexit

The UK has now left the European Union (EU). It is currently in the process of formalizing a trade agreement that will set out how the UK and EU interact in the future. This is expected to apply from the year 2021 onwards.

For nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA), there are likely to be a number of changes once Britain formally leaves the European Union’s regulations framework.

The British government has suggested that passengers from EU countries will no longer be able to travel with only their identity cards and that they will need passports and visa waivers. It is likely that during 2021 it will become obligatory to register for a UK eTA before arriving in the country.

The UK eTA will be available online. Travellers will need to fill in an application form up to a few days before their departure to the UK. If they meet the necessary requirements they will then receive authorization to travel to Britain for numerous short trips over a number of years.

This website will be updated regularly to express any new developments regarding the United Kingdom eTA.