Remember a few years ago when the only visa headaches a UK passport holder visiting the US had to worry about were filling out a couple of forms on the plane and not pulling a stupid face at the passport control camera?
Things changed in January 2009, when the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) was made compulsory for all travellers eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme – that’s the law where UK passport holders can travel to the US for tourist or business purposes for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa from the US Embassy in London.
The ESTA assesses a traveller’s eligibility to enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme. ESTA approval doesn’t guarantee entry into the US, but rather authorises travel to the country.
The responsibility lies firmly with the traveller, and anyone who tries to fly without ESTA approval will find out they’ve made a costly mistake! Any passenger without approval won’t be given permission to fly, and they’ll have no chance of getting a refund for any costs already paid.
Unless revoked, an ESTA remains valid for two years from the date of authorisation, or until the passport associated with it expires, whichever comes first.
At first the ESTA was free. But on September 8 2010, a compulsory fee was introduced – $14 (£9), which includes a $4 administration fee and a $10 acceptance charge. Rejected applications are only charged the $4 administration fee.
Travellers should use the official US Department of Homeland Security website to apply for an ESTA and pay by credit card. Also steer clear of copycat websites that charge much higher fees – one website was known to charge $49 per person.
Millions of travellers rushed to get an ESTA just before the fees were introduced two years ago. It’s worth pointing out that if you are one of those people your ESTA will expire on September 7 2012 at the latest.
The US authorities are strict when it comes to travel documentation, so be sure to get that ESTA sorted long before your next trip to the USA.
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