Before you plan a trip to the USA, there is one important thing you need to add to your packing list other than your ticket, passport and toothbrush. Everyone travelling to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme needs to apply for and ESTA as it allows British passport holders to visit the US on business or leisure for up to 90 days at a time. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation and is a compulsory pre-checking scheme that enables the Department Of Homeland Security to determine whether an individual is eligible to enter the United States before they catch a flight.
When to apply
It’s recommended that you should apply for your ESTA as soon as you make plans to travel to the US. That allows you to make alternative arrangements should your application be rejected for any reason.
Do children need an ESTA?
All children, regardless of their age are required to have an ESTA.
How long does it take for a response regarding your application?
Most ESTA applications get responses through immediately and the response will either be ‘Authorisation Approved’, ‘Authorisation Pending’ or ‘Travel Not Authorised’. If your authorisation is pending it may mean you need to check back after a following 72 hours.
Does an ESTA guarantee me entry to the US
It’s important to keep in mind that neither an ESTA nor VWP guarantees you will be permitted to enter America, it simply states you have been pre-approved to enter the country. The final say as to if you can enter the country rests with those at Customs and Border Protection.
What you need to apply
To apply for your ESTA you will need to have a credit or debit card to hand for pay for the application and your personal details. Your itinerary and passport will also be handy for answering some of the questions. The application does not require immediate itinerary details as they can be updated closer to your departure.
Do I need an ESTA if I carry a Green Card?
A valid green card allows you travel freely to the US so those holding one will not require an ESTA.
Do I need to print out my ESTA?
The ESTA system is entirely automated so you won’t need to print out your approved application. Some people chose to just in case technology fails at the airport, but that is unlikely.
Why was it introduced?
The US Department of Homeland Security set up the ESTA after the devastating 9/11 attacks with the aim of stopping undesirable citizens of VWP countries from entering America as a preventative measure.
Do I need an ESTA to fly within the US?
You will only need as ESTA if you are flying into the US so internal flights will not require one.
Places that require an ESTA?
US states including Guam, Puerto Rico, Alaska, the Virgin Islands of the United States, Hawaii and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands all require an ESTA for entry.