ESTA visa waiver explained
Want a holiday in the United States? You'll have to fill out some paperwork first.
Getting a visa to go on a holiday or business trip to the United States can be a massive hassle. Thankfully though, British citizens can get an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) instead, which takes mere minutes to sign up for and saves you having to step foot in the US embassy.
This guide lays out what an ESTA actually is and why you might need one. Plus we give you all the key information, like how long it lasts for and how much it costs.
What is ESTA?
If you’re travelling to the US you need to fill out the ESTA form, even if you’re just stopping off to get a connecting flight.
It’s a web-based system that’s used to determine whether an individual has the right to travel to the US.
Citizens from the United Kingdom and most EU countries are generally given the green light to travel to the US for business or pleasure for 90 days or less without a visa.
As long as they fill out the ESTA form.
Is ESTA mandatory?
If you’ve signed up to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) then yes.
Citizens from certain countries are able to sign up to this program, allowing them to visit the US for up to 90 days without a visa.
Great news if you’re from the UK, as it’s one of these accepted nations. However, this doesn’t mean you get off scot-free from doing any paperwork, as you will have to fill out the online ESTA form and get approved before travelling to the US.
How long does ESTA last for?
The ESTA is valid for 2 years and allows for multiple trips of up to 90 days each to the US.
Even if your ESTA expires during your visit to the US it won’t affect your departure, so just make sure it’s valid on the day you’re flying. However, if your passport expires or you change your name or gender during the two-year period, you’ll need to reapply for an ESTA.
How much does an ESTA cost?
You have to pay for your ESTA by credit card and it will set you back US$14, which works out at about £9.
While not that much in the grand scheme of things, if you’re going on a big family trip the costs of all your ESTA applications might start adding up.
If your application is rejected though, you’ll only be charged US$4.
How long does it take to get an ESTA?
You’re advised to apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before you travel, as it can take a couple of days for the form to be processed.
However, if you’re at the airport and it suddenly hits you that you haven’t got an ESTA, apply right away. Sometimes they’re approved instantly. Yet, this is obviously not advised.
Booking a few weeks in advance is probably best, as it gives you time to try to get a tourist visa if your ESTA is turned down. Should you have to go down this route it can take a while, as you’ll need to book an embassy appointment.
How to apply for an ESTA?
As mentioned you should apply at least 72 hours before your flight. And remember, even if you’re just stopping off and changing flights in the US, you’ll need to do this too. Here are the steps:
- Have your passport details to hand and apply on the official ESTA website. It can take anywhere between a few seconds and 72 hours to get a response.
- Make a note of your application number. This will let you check your ESTA status or update your information.
- Next you have to pay for the ESTA by credit card.
- Then just wait for your application status to be updated. If approved its valid for 2 years and you can make multiple trips to the US of up to 90 days.
- That’s it. There’s no need to print it off as it will automatically be sent to your carrier.
Frequently asked questions
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