A guide to ESTA for travel to America

Did you know that if you’re visiting America, you can travel with an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) rather than a visa? Here’s a quick and easy guide to all things ESTA travel.

Did you know that if you’re visiting America, you can travel with an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) rather than a visa? Here’s a quick and easy guide to all things ESTA travel.

Josh Daniels
From the Travel team
minute read
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Posted 28 JANUARY 2020

What is an ESTA?

The ESTA, which was introduced in 2009, is required if you’re a UK citizen visiting the USA by air or sea for less than 90 days on holiday or on a business trip. It’s part of the Visa Waiver Program, which enables travelers from certain countries, including the UK, to travel to the US without a visa.

The ESTA is not a visa. If you’re travelling in the USA for more than 90 days you’ll need to apply for a visa through the consulate or embassy in your country.

People from 38 countries  are able to apply for an ESTA. If you’re not a citizen of one of these countries, then you’ll need to apply for a regular tourist visa via the embassy. The good news? The UK is on the list, so if you’re a British citizen, then an ESTA is the way to go.


A travel traffic light system has been introduced for international travel. From 19 July 2021, trips to green and amber listed countries are legally permitted if you live in England and Scotland. However, you’ll still need to fulfil any pre-departure requirements, such as testing. If you live in Wales and Northern Ireland, you still need to follow the rules for your relevant local authority.

If a country is on the green or amber list, you still need to check the latest travel advice and entry requirements for each country you visit or transit through. This is to ensure you’re aware of any specific requirements relating to entry and to check travellers from the UK are permitted. Countries can have their traffic light status changed at short notice and you should take this into consideration when looking to travel. Please check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advice for the latest information.

The FCDO currently advises against all but essential travel to red listed countries. Should you choose to travel against the FCDO rules, you will not be covered by any travel insurance policy you purchase. Some providers do offer cover for international travel if you’re travelling for essential purposes, however most do not. In all cases, should you have any queries please check the policy wording or contact your chosen provider before purchasing to ensure the cover meets your needs.

Travel within England, Scotland and Wales is permitted under the current guidelines. However, public health rules and lockdown restrictions continue to vary, including entry restrictions for Northern Ireland. Check the latest guidance from the official tourism boards for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Find out more here

Customers with more serious pre-existing medical conditions

Our panel includes insurance providers who quote cover for all medical conditions declared on our website, with no exclusions.

The Money and Pensions Service (MaPs) has launched a directory of insurance providers on its Money Advice Service website that may be able to provide quotes over the phone, if you have more serious medical conditions. Find more information at the Money Advice Service or by calling the British Insurance Brokers’ Association on 0370 950 1790.

How do I get an ESTA?

To apply for an ESTA, all you need to do is visit the official ESTA application page, where you’ll be asked a few questions. Avoid third party sites, as they’re likely to charge you an extra fee to process your application – it’s not necessary and you don't want to be paying any more than you need to.

To apply you need to have:

  • a valid credit card ready to pay for your application (MasterCard, VISA, American Express, or Discover – including JCB and Diners Club)
  • your contact information
  • your most recent employment information

You won’t need to print out your ESTA to show at border control, but we do recommend you keep a copy for your records, just in case.   

How long does it take to get an ESTA?

You must apply for your ESTA at least 72 hours before you leave for the US.

Once you’ve filled out the online application, you could be told within seconds whether your ESTA application has been accepted.

How much is an ESTA visa?

One application for an ESTA will cost you only $14 (and just $4 if you’re rejected).  

How long will my ESTA last?

Once you’ve successfully applied for an ESTA, it will be valid for up to two years, or until your passport expires. You can also visit America multiple times within those two years, as long as your stay is less than 90 days per trip.

Why could my ESTA application be declined?

There are various reasons why your application could be declined, but these are the most common:

  • you stayed for longer in the USA than was authorised on a past visit
  • in the past you’ve claimed to be a visitor in the USA, but took part in unauthorised work
  • you’ve been denied entry into the USA in the past
  • you’ve previously answered a Visa Waiver Program eligibility question incorrectly
  • the passport you’re using has been reported lost or stolen.

So in summary: ESTA? Check. American dollars? Check. Travel insurance Check. You’re good to go.

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