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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.
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:
- describes your nationality as a ‘British Citizen’
- is an ePassport with this internationally recognised symbol on the front cover
- 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.
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.
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 – for instance, you can apply for an ESTA application by E-visums.co.uk.
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.