If you’re from the U.K and traveling into the U.S by air or by sea, you must have an approved and paid for ESTA in advance. This requirement extends even to those who are just passing through the U.S for onward travel to another country. But what exactly is an ESTA, and how does it work?
In the article below, we’ll explore all you need to know about the ESTA, including how to get it, how long it is valid for, and all other necessary information you need to know in order to save as much money as possible during your application, as we all know visa and immigration costs can add up significantly if we’re not careful.
What is an ESTA?
An ESTA stands for Electronic System For Travel Authorisation. It is basically an online system which tells you in advance whether or not you’re eligible to enter and travel into the United States, under the VWP (Visa Waiver Program). Previously, travelers to the U.S were required to fill out the green I-94W paper while on the plane en route to the U.S, and you’d only find out at the immigration counter whether or not border security would deny or allow you access to the country based on your responses on the form.
This means that with a pre-approved ESTA, visitors to the U.S would already know if they are qualified to enter the country prior to even boarding their flights, saving them the hassle and financial stress of booking a hotel, plane fares and other associated costs if they used an I-94 instead and had their entry application held under review for an extended period of time.
There is one thing about the ESTA that is important to note however, and it’s the fact that having an ESTA is not an automatic guarantee that travellers are allowed to enter the U.S.A – the ESTA basically just establishes that an individual is ‘eligible to travel’. This means U.S border security has the right to decide at the point of entry whether you’re allowed in or not, at their discretion, based on whether or not you don’t fit the VWP criteria fully.
How much does an ESTA cost?
The ESTA application itself comes with a fee of $14. Let’s look at the breakdown of the cost below.
$4 of the fee goes to the ESTA administration office for their services. $10 out of the $14 however, goes to a fund that promotes U.S tourism – which is a pretty bizarre way of looking at it, as you’re more than likely to attract more visitors and tourists by not charging them rather than charging them. With that said however, this mandated fee is the correct amount that you’ll expect to pay in order to apply for your ESTA.
Payment methods such as PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, Discover (including JCB, Diners Club), and American Express are accepted on the payment platform for the ESTA application. However, if your application is rejected, you’ll still be charged $4, which is the administrative service fee when you apply. When paying by card, ensure that you avoid any hidden charges – such as a ‘load’ on the exchange rate as you’re spending in a foreign currency, and hidden interest charges that may be passed on to you.
How to apply for ESTA?
You should apply for your ESTA well before your intended departure date, in order to allow for any delays or extended considerations to your application. Also, you can save the flight ticket and hotel booking money if you run into the unfortunate situation of being rejected entry into the U.S – however, in such cases, you can always seek professional immigration related advice and try applying for your ESTA again.
All you need to do is visit the U.S Department of Homeland Security’s ESTA web page, where you can apply for your ESTA in your preferred choice of language – however, your responses must be in English. The website itself is a little dated and clunky, so make sure you pay special attention to your entries as you complete each page of the application. The entire process should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete.
For UK residents, the details you’ll need to supply are your passport number, expiry date, your contact details such as address, postcode and phone number, and the address of where you’re staying when you’re in the U.S.
The application itself can take literally minutes for you to know if you’re accepted or rejected, or it can take up to 72 hours, depending on the situation. Whatever it is, once you’ve filled up the application, you’ll receive a notification of your approval or rejection of entry electronically when you check back online.
If your application is approved, it is a good idea to print it out and carry it safe whenever you travel. If you’ve lost your printout, it is possible to retrieve an electronic copy on the ESTA website, which also reminds you when your ESTA is due to expire.
ESTA can only be applied for online
When it comes to ESTA applications, the authorization process can only be done online, with a representative of U.S Customs and Border Protection making the decision for you on the other side.
This means that copycat websites are aplenty online, and more likely than not, you’ll find that these websites clearly flout the rules of legal application for an ESTA, and if you use these services, you may find that you’ll be turned away at immigration even with a valid pre-approved ESTA, based on grounds that your application was not a legit submission and acceptance.
Can I renew my ESTA?
There is no option to ‘renew’ your ESTA, rather, you’ll have to reapply for a brand new one once the two year validity period is up, or when your passport expires, whichever comes first. Your reference number and ESTA is tied to the passport which you used to apply for it with, so take note of that before you book any travel plans in the near future to the U.S.