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A guide to ESTA for travel to America

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.

Patrick Ikhena
From the Travel team
minute read
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.


On 30 July 2020, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) updated the list of countries that are exempt from its ongoing advice against all non-essential international travel.

If you choose to travel overseas to a destination where the FCO is advising against non-essential travel at the time of your departure, then your insurance policy will be invalid, and any claim likely to be rejected.

For domestic travel, please check the local public health rules for the destination you wish to travel to within the United Kingdom.

For more information, please see our coronavirus and travel insurance page.

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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