If you’re planning a trip to the United States for a holiday, to visit friends or family or for work reasons, it’s not only your luggage and your passport that you need to remember. Following updated visa legislation in 2008, the US now requires anybody entering the country to apply for an ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, before they travel. This is a separate procedure from providing advance information relating to where and how long you are staying to your airline, and you can apply for it online in advance of your trip. Here we answer some common queries relating to the ESTA application process.
Your approved ESTA allows you to board a plane or ship to the United States; it does not give you automatic access to the country. US Customs and Border Protection Officers have the discretion to deny entry or apprehend individuals they may suspect are trying to enter the country illegally. Remember that under the terms of the VWP (visa waiver programme), you are permitted to visit the United States for a 90 day period only. If an immigration official suspects, for instance, that you have tried to make a day-trip out of the country in order to “reset” the 90-day clock, you may well be refused entry.
Yes, the passport you are using in order to travel to the United States needs to have a matching valid ESTA linked to it. If your passport expires or you change your name or gender and you have to apply for a new one, you will also need to re-apply for an ESTA for your next trip to the USA.
Your ESTA authorisation is valid for two years, meaning you can visit as many times as you like over that period. Remember, however, that it is linked to the passport with which you applied. If you get a new passport because your previous one expired or you have changed your name or your gender, you will need to apply for a new ESTA.
As the ESTA application process is all managed online, you will need a valid credit or debit card in order to pay. The processing fee is £60.00 for every applicant and includes the $14 US border fee, paid once your application has been accepted. The processing fee is charged whether your application is successful or not so it is strongly recommended that you double check you are eligible and your forms are all filled in correctly.
You don’t have to have definite plans to travel when you apply for your ESTA, although it is recommended that you start your application once your plans are more concrete and no less than 72 hours before you are due to leave in case of any delays. If you don’t have an address to enter, a rough area or region is usually sufficient and you will not be required to update the exact details once approved. The ESTA is valid for two years and can be used multiple times.
No, the information in your ESTA will be shared with the Department of Homeland Security automatically; however, you might want to keep a copy for your records so that you are fully aware of your ESTA status.
Before the introduction of the ESTA, passengers en-route to the United States had to fill out a green I-94W form if they were not travelling with a visa and a white version of the form if they were. As the ESTA date is now shared automatically with Homeland Security, the form will gradually be eliminated. This means that if you are arriving by plane or ship, your ESTA will suffice. In certain circumstances, such as if you were crossing the border from Mexico to the USA via car, the relevant systems may not yet be in place to check your ESTA status and you may still be asked to fill in an I-94 form.