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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.

Patrick Ikhena
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.


Starting on 5 November, the Government has introduced a national lockdown for England that will last until at least 2 December. As part of this, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advise against all non-essential domestic and international travel.

If you choose to travel overseas to a destination while the FCDO has advised against non-essential travel, or domestically against the instructions of the UK Government, then your insurance policy will be invalid, and any claim will be rejected.

For those living in the UK but outside of England, the public health rules may differ, but you must abide by the restrictions imposed by your local authority.

We’ll continually review the situation, and update you with the latest FCDO or Government guidance on travel.

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

Until then, stay safe.

Customers with more serious pre-existing medical conditions

When you declare medical conditions on our website, we will only show quotes from insurance providers who will cover for all declared medical conditions, with no exclusions.

The Money and Pension Service (MaPs) has also launched a directory of insurance providers, who 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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