Travelling to the USA? – Don’t Forget your ESTA!

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I recently got back from a fantastic trip to the USA – this time it was all about the ‘buzz’ of cities like New York and Chicago, but America is huge and I would argue, truly, has something for everyone. Nature lovers and city trippers alike can find innumerable ways to enjoy themselves.

New York from the top of The Empire State Building!

But, always make sure you have all the documents you need sorted in advance!

Despite generally being a (fairly) well organised and experienced traveller, I actually almost forgot that I needed to renew my ESTA before my trip and could have been in a bit of a mess if there had been any unexpected administrative issues or delays with processing – so give yourself enough time.


As long as your visit meets the following criteria, it will come under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) and you therefore do not need to apply for a Visa (you do still need ESTA though!). As per the current UK Government travel advice (February 2017):

“The VWP allows most British Citizen passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days. The types of journey allowed under the VWP include tourism, certain types of business visit and transit to another country.

You’ll generally qualify to enter the USA using the VWP if your British passport:

and you:

  • haven’t been arrested for certain crimes, even if a criminal conviction didn’t result
  • aren’t a dual national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria
  • haven’t travelled to Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since March 2011
  • have received authorisation from the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation at least 72 hours before you travel (see below)
  • can show that you have enough funds available on arrival to support yourself during your stay, even if you’re staying with family and friends

The VWP is intended to be used for occasional, short visits to the US. If a US immigration officer thinks you’re trying to ‘reset’ the clock by making a short trip out of the US and re-entering for another 90-day period, you can be denied entry. If you travel from the US to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean you can usually re-enter using the ESTA and admission stamp you were issued when you first arrived in the US, although the time you spend outside of the country is included in the 90 days allotted for your visit. Make sure you’re clear about the length of time the immigration officer has authorised you to remain in the US if you re-enter under the same ESTA”.

What documents do I need?

The good news is that for most Brits, most of the time, things are relatively simple.

  • Passport, valid until after the end of your trip. This needs to be an ePassport, which almost everyone’s should be by now – if you have a little camera image on the bottom of the front cover (as below), you’re fine.

  • Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) – you should apply for this at least 72 hours before travel.
  • You will also need to provide Advance Passenger Information (API) to your airline – which is essentially just your passport details and a few extra questions like where you will be staying. Airlines and travel agencies have different rules about when they require this information, so it’s best just to do it straight after booking.

President Trump’s attempted travel ban against people from Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen caused a great deal of confusion for British people with dual citizenship of those countries. This remains a very fluid situation, so you should check the latest official UK Government advice here and keep an eye on the news too, because the official advice might be different to how rules are interpreted in reality, as we saw recently.

ESTA details

Apply online at least 72 hours before travel. All being well, you should receive approval very quickly (immediately in my experience).

The cost is $14.00 and the application takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Your ESTA is valid for up to two years or until your passport expires – whichever is sooner. It is valid for multiple trips within that period.

When you apply, as well as the usual info (name, date of birth etc) there are a quite a few less obvious questions too, for example:

  • Whether you are suffering from an infectious disease (such as leprosy, tuberculosis, etc …) or have a physical or mental disturbance
  • Whether you use drugs
  • Whether you ever been arrested or sentenced for an offense or crime involving a moral turpitude, trade or use of prohibited substances, or convicted for a total of more than 5 years in prison
  • Whether you intend to look for work in the USA


It might feel a bit intrusive, but it’s the same for everyone and there is no way around it.

Bottom line

If you are travelling to the USA, get organised well in advance and don’t forget your ESTA! – you can submit your application here.

There are also specialised companies that can submit the application for you and check your application for common mistakes etc. Apply for an ESTA application by

If you have any problems completing the ESTA form online, contact the US Embassy in London.

Inside Flyer does not guarantee the services of third parties and does not guarantee approval of a Visa/ESTA authorization. 


    • Joe Deeney says

      Haha- my pleasure!

      I remembered to tell the mate I was travelling with, but somehow forgot my own needed renewing until the week before I was going!

  1. Ian Perry says

    Great advice, as ever, Joe. Can I just add, don’t just Google “Esta application” or similar, and pick a random result as a family member got caught out before and ended up paying an awful lot more. Thankfully, his application was actually processed, but there are bad people out there who will just take your money.

  2. GS says

    Great article. I understand the ESTA is valid for 2 years and you only need it on the way into the US (it can expire while you are there). I am going to the US this summer and have a few domestic flights lined up when I am there. My ESTA is valid upon entry but expires 2 days into my trip. Will I be held up for the domestic flights as it would no longer be valid? Many thanks in advance!

    • Joe Deeney says

      Cheers GS!

      To the best of my knowledge you should be fine, but I am not qualified to say for certain – so I would strongly advise getting that confirmed directly by the US Embassy or the Department for Homeland Security.

      The US Customs website states:

      “Do travelers need to update their travel authorization if it will expire before they depart from the United States?

      No, An ESTA is only required to be valid on the day you enter the United States. The ESTA does not need to be valid for the entire time a traveler is in the U.S. If the ESTA expires while you are in the U.S., it will not affect your admissibility or the amount of time you are permitted to remain in the U.S.

      If an ESTA travel authorization expires before the traveler leaves the United States, the traveler is not required to apply for another. The traveler will need to apply for a new travel authorization through ESTA, however, for future travel.”

      As I say, it looks like you should be fine, but I would get it confirmed directly.

      Hope that helps!

    • Craig Sowerby says

      You certainly won’t need your ESTA whilst in the U.S. I still find it weird that I don’t need to show ID when boarding the plane. (of course you need it to get through security though)

      However, unless you really have no plans to visit the U.S. during the next couple of years, is it really such a big deal to spend the $14?

      Or if you are planning to visit Iran, you could get an ESTA now so that you can answer the question honestly.

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