ESTA Essential Information
ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, it is not a visa, but is part of a post 9/11 system to increase security for travellers entering the US from countries included in the Visa Waiver Programme, such as the UK.
Who needs it?
Any UK national travelling to the US as a tourist or on business for 90 days or less must have an ESTA or they will not even be able to board a flight. Even if you are just passing through America in transit, you are still required to have a valid ESTA. Babies, who don’t necessarily have a plane ticket, are still expected to have an ESTA. However, if you enter the US by land from Mexico or Canada, you will not need to have the authorisation.
How do I apply for one?
You can only apply for the ESTA online, it is available by clicking here and involves filling out a form including personal details from passport number to address to travel details and any criminal convictions.
Is it free?
No! The ESTA used to be free, but the rules changed on September 8, and now it costs $14 (about £9) payable by credit card. The first $4 is the processing fee and the additional $10 is the authorisation fee which will be refunded if you are refused. Be aware that there are a lot of companies on the internet offering to help you with the ESTA at a cost (sometimes up to $60) but this is not necessary, it is an easy form to fill out and there is no need for third party involvement.
How long does it take to come through?
For most people, confirmation that the ESTA has gone through will be received almost immediately. However, the Department of Homeland Security recommends that travel applications are submitted at least 72 hours prior to travel. Remember to keep hold of your confirmation number, or even better, print out the confirmation page.
Do I need to take a copy of my authorisation to the airport?
The Department of Homeland Security will inform your airline that your ESTA has been approved. However, it is still recommended that you take a copy of your document to the check-in desk.
What happens if my ESTA application is refused?
If you receive a Travel Not Authorised response it does not necessarily mean you are not allowed to enter the USA. It may just be because you are not eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Programme due to previous convictions or nationality. Instead, visit the Department of State website (www.travel.state.gov) for additional information about applying for a visa.
What if I make a mistake on my ESTA?
If You can look over the information you have entered before you submit your ESTA, make sure you do this as if you have made a mistake you will have to send a new application and will be charged again. If your application is denied on these grounds, be aware that you have to wait 24 hours before you can re-apply.
If you wrongly answered that you had a previous conviction, only to realise afterwards that it would not affect your ESTA status, send a message to Homeland Security explaining your mistake, using this link here.
How long does the ESTA last?
Unless revoked, the ESTA is valid for two years, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. You also need to reapply before the two years is up if you change your name or gender, your country of citizenship changes or your response to any questions on the form changes, such as criminal convictions etc. If your ESTA expires while you are in the US, that is not a problem as long as it's valid on your outward journey. You just need to re-apply on your return.
Can I update my ESTA information?
Once the application is submitted, you are still able to update your email address, telephone number, transport information, the city where you are boarding and the address you will be staying at in the US.
What if I don’t have my application number?
If you have lost your application number and need to update your information, go to the ESTA welcome page and click on the link ‘If you are missing your Application Number, please click here’. You will need to fill in your last name, first name, date of birth, passport number, and passport issuing country.