Some years ago, visiting the United States was one of the easiest things in the world. However, the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001 have made tourists to face rigorous security checks, long queues and recently, a fee to enter the US. The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) has been a necessary condition for people visiting the US from early 2010.
In case you want to travel to the United States for a holiday, here are some of the things that you need to know:
The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation
ESTA does not work as a Visa; it is just a post 9/11 strategy to enhance security for tourists visiting the US from countries like the UK that are integrated into the Visa Waiver Programme.
Who needs it?
UK nationals visiting the US for a holiday or business, for less than 90 days must acquire an ESTA to be able to board a flight. Even for people who are in transit through America, a valid ESTA is mandatory. For babies who do not need to have a plane ticket, an ESTA is still a requirement for them. However, for people entering the US by land from Canada or Mexico, this authorisation is not compulsory.
How to apply for ESTA
ESTA is applied online at www.cbp.gov/esta where one fills out a form that requires personal information from address, passport number, travel details, to any criminal convictions.
Does one pay for ESTA?
Some time back, ESTA used to be free. But since September 8, it costs 14 Dollars and is payable via credit card. $4 is for processing while the additional $10 is for authorisation and will be refunded if you are declined. There are many companies online offering to help with the ESTA at a fee of up to $60which is not necessary. This is an easy-to-fill form, and it is not needed to have third party involvement.
How long does will it take to process?
Usually, confirmation that ESTA has gone through can be received immediately. However, the Department of Homeland Security advises that the applications are made at least 72 hours before travel. It is essential to hold onto your confirmation number or to print out the confirmation page.
Taking a copy of your authorisation to the airport
The Department of Homeland Security informs your airline about the approval of your ESTA. However, it is vital to take a copy of this document to the check-in desk.
What you should do if your ESTA application is refused
If you get a Travel Not Authorised feedback, it does not mean you are entirely not authorised to go to the USA. It may be due to ineligibility to travel within the Visa Waiver Programme as a result of past convictions or nationality. You should then visit the Department of State website (www.travel.state.gov) for more details on how to apply for a visa.
What you should do if you make a mistake on your ESTA
You should confirm your details before you submit the information in the ESTA portal. If you make a mistake, you will have to re-apply and be charged yet again. In case your application is refused on these bases, you will have to wait for 24 hours before you re-apply.
How long will your ESTA last?
Unless withdrawn, your ESTA will be valid until your passport expires, or for two years, whichever comes first. If you change your gender, name, country of citizenship, or your answer to any questions on the form such as criminal conviction, you need to reapply before the two year period is up. If your ESTA expires while in the US, it should be valid on when you are going back to your country. You will also need to apply again when you want to revisit the US.
Updating your ESTA information
When your application is sent, you will still be able to revise details such as email address, phone number, transport details, the location where you are boarding and your residential address while in the US.
What you should do if you do not have your application number
If you lose your application number and want to change your information, visit the ESTA welcome page and select the link available for persons whose application number is missing. All you need to fill in is your first name, last name, date of birth, passport issuing country and, passport number.