US to charge Britons for permission to enter country

Britons travelling to the United States will have to pay £9 to apply for permission to enter the country using the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (Esta) from next month.

The fee is being introduced to all passengers who use the compulsory online pre-approval scheme that has replaced the green I-94W visa waiver forms.

Prospective travellers must pay a $14 (£9) fee from 8th September, which officials said would go towards funds promoting tourism in the US.

The Esta scheme applies to nationals of all 36 countries, mostly western, that have a visa waiver status – the system that allows tourists to enter the US without a full travel visa. Visitors to the US who need a visa pay a fee starting from $140 (£85), depending on the nature of their trip.

An approval from Esta is valid for two years and can be used for repeated visits to the US. Around four million Britons visit the US each year.

Martin Lewis, creator of MoneySavingExpert.com, has urged anyone even considering a trip to the US to apply for a form now in order to avoid the charge.

He said: “The security authorisation lasts for two years, so do it now and it’ll be free if you travel in that time. Yet leave it for a month and you’ll have to pay for it.

He added: “It is strange that this fee is mainly going to promote US tourism. You would have thought keeping it cheaper to get in would help more, after all, it’s free for most Americans to come here.”

The online system has been introduced in phases since 2008 and is now compulsory for all tourists, who must submit their approval reference number to their airline at least 72 hours prior to check-in.

There is no such equivalent fee for United States tourist visitors to the UK.

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, said $4 of the Esta fee would cover costs while the remaining $10 would be used to increase marketing to help boost tourism.

Between 2000 and 2008 long-haul travel from the UK increased by 40 per cent, while visits by Britons to the US fell by 3 per cent.

An online poll carried out earlier this year by Telegraph Travel found 44 per cent of readers said an Esta fee would put them off visiting the US.

Source – The Telegraph

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