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ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation to the USA)

Find out about the USA’s visa waiver programme - ESTA - and how to apply if you're heading to America.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 14 October 2019  | 4 min read

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Do I need a visa for the USA?

Not necessarily, but you’ll need to apply for an ESTA, which is part of the Visa Waiver Programme.

The ESTA allows visitors from certain countries, including the UK, to travel to America for business or pleasure trips for 90 days or less without a visa.

Your travel insurance won’t cover you for the wasted trip if you attempt to travel to the States without applying for ESTA, or after being rejected.

An ESTA also allows you to travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. It’s valid for two years, unless your passport needs renewing during that time.

There’s no guarantee you won’t be stopped and questioned by customs officials and potentially turned away. An ESTA only means you are eligible to travel.

However, this is extremely rare if you’ve been honest during your application.


ESTA application and costs

You need to apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before travelling, but it’s best to do it much earlier if you can. You need to give details of your flights and where you’ll be staying.

You’ll need a valid passport, and an accepted credit card or PayPal account to pay the application fee.

The application costs $14 per person.

You also have to declare any communicable diseases and if you have ever been arrested, cautioned or convicted of a crime. If you have a criminal record, your ESTA will probably be declined. You'll need to apply for a non-immigrant visa at the US Embassy or Consulate instead.


Keep a note of your reference number

Application numbers are emailed to you if your application’s successful.

If you’ve applied as part of a group, you’ll need to go to the ESTA website to check your individual status and to find a forgotten reference number.

You might find out that you’re approved or rejected for an ESTA straight away, but it could take up to 72 hours.

If your application is rejected, you’ll still have to pay a $4 administration fee and reapplications will also be turned down.

You'll need to apply for a non-immigrant visa at the US Embassy or Consulate instead.


Beware of bogus sites

You can only apply for an ESTA online, although friends, relatives and travel agents can fill in the form on your behalf.

There are some companies that claim they can apply on your behalf for a fee. But there’s no guarantee they are legitimate and no need to use them. Only apply through the genuine the genuine ESTA website.

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