ESTA: Electronic System for Travel Authorisation

If you’re planning a trip to the USA you may not be aware that the entry procedures have changed. From the 12th January 2009, the online completion of ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) became compulsory for all Visa Waiver Programme travellers entering the United States by air or sea. Read on to find out more!

Visa Waiver Programme:The Visa Waiver Programme has made visiting the United States very easy for millions of visitors. Currently consisting of 27 countries, the Visa Waiver Programme enables citizens with a machine readable passport* to visit the United States for up to 90 days without applying for a tourist or business visa in advance. Until now, Visa Waiver Programme travellers simply presented their machine-readable passport to border control agents for admission to the United States.

*A machine-readable passport contains two lines of text with numbers and chevrons (<<<) at the bottom of the personal information page with the passport bearer’s picture.
The purpose of ESTA:With the new Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, all Visa Waiver Programme travellers must pre-register their visit to the United States and be approved prior to travel. The application process is run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is currently free; you must complete the application online.

The purpose of ESTA is to let the DHS pre-screen all travellers before they leave their countries – think of it as an added security measure! You should apply for travel authorisation at least 72 hours prior to entering the country – this also applies to travellers transiting through the United States.

If your application is successful, it will be valid for two years or until the date on your passport expires – which ever comes first. If your application is denied, you will have to apply for a visitor visa at a US embassy or consulate, which can take weeks to get an appointment.

Travellers entering by land either from Canada or Mexico are not required to register before travelling but remember to buy your 24/7 travel insurance as soon as you book your trip!

*The ESTA process:

  • Complete your application online – enter all required travel information including your passport details. All members of your party must have an approved travel authorisation or a visa regardless of their age.
  • Submit your application – check all answers given are accurate before submitting. It is a good idea to print a copy of your application for your own records.
  • Receive and record your application number – you will be given a reference number once you have submitted your application. You will need this number to check your application status or to update your details in the future.
  • Receive response to application – in most cases, a response will be sent immediately. In instances where more time is needed to determine the status of an application, an answer will be returned within 72 hours.

* Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Don’t forget to take out travel insurance!
Whilst it is easy to get carried away with researching your trip to the United States, please make sure you buy your travel insurance after you have booked your flights and accommodation. Medical costs in the USA can be expensive even for a minor injury, so don’t skimp by not taking out this essential insurance cover.

24/7 Travel Insurance offers great value and can bought direct from the provider at their website: . For example a trip to the USA for a week will cost only £17.52 – a small price to pay for peace of mind!

*Premium £17.52 includes Insurance Premium Tax based on 1 adult aged under 55 taking out a “standard” Single-trip 24/7 travel insurance policy for 7 days in the USA excluding personal possessions cover and purchased within 14 days of departure date. Cover details and prices are correct at time of going to press (January 2009) and are subject to change.