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A Guide to ESTA For Travel To America

If you’re travelling to the good old US of A, then first of all, we’re very jealous. And secondly, did you know that if you’re traveling there by air or sea, you’ll need something called an ESTA?

 

The USA officially calls this the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, but that’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s just call it ESTA for short. It’s important to remember that if you don’t have a suitable visa or an ESTA, you’ll be refused entry to the country - and nobody wants that.

 

So here’s a quick and easy guide to getting an ESTA for travel to America. 

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What is an ESTA?

The ESTA was introduced in 2009 and replaced the old Visa Waiver Programme. If you’re travelling to the USA for less than 90 days either on holiday or for a business trip, and you don’t currently have a valid visa, you’ll need to apply for an ESTA.

And remember: make sure you’re approved for an ESTA before you book your travel tickets.

So an ESTA isn’t a visa?

No, it isn’t – and this is something you need to be conscious of. You can apply for an ESTA online. But you can only get a visa via the US embassy or consulate in your country. Here’s a list of all 38 countries that 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.

Remember that an ESTA doesn’t meet the legal requirements of a visa under the United States law. So if you already have a visa, you’ll be able to travel to the USA for the reasons it was issued and you don’t need to apply for an ESTA as well.

Mount Rushmore

How much is an ESTA?

The cost for an ESTA is quite reasonable. All in all, one application for an ESTA will cost you only $14 (and just $4 if you’re rejected). So, if you’re travelling in a family of four, that’s $56 (approximately £33) all together.  

How long does an ESTA last?

Once you’ve successfully applied for an ESTA, it will be valid for up to two years, or until your passport expires (which reminds us, check that expiry date). You can also visit the United States of America multiple times within those two years, so long as your stay is less than 90 days per trip. After which time you’ll have to renew your application.

Golden Gate Bridge

Why could an ESTA be declined?

There are many reasons why an ESTA could be declined, but here are the most common:

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

 

So how do I apply for an ESTA to enter the USA?

It's easy. 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.

You’ll need to make sure that:

  • You’re a citizen, or an eligible national from one of the 38 countries that are part of the programme 
  • You don't already have a valid visa
  • You will be travelling to the USA for 90 days or less
  • You’re visiting the USA for a holiday, or on business
  • You have a valid credit card to pay for your application (MasterCard, VISA, American Express, or Discover – including JCB and Diners Club)
  • You have your contact information to hand
  • If applicable, employment information

Once you’ve filled out the online application, you could be told within seconds whether your ESTA has been accepted. But be sure to allow up to 72 hours for a response, just in case.

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.   

And while we’re at it, you’ll need travel insurance when you’re in America. We can help you sift through a range of insurance providers in just a few seconds, so you can find the policy that’s right for you and your US adventure. Just use our handy travel insurance comparison service to find the deal that’s right for you.

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

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