Getting an ESTA: How to Plan for Your American Holiday

Travelling to the United States for a holiday? Your passport isn’t all you’ll need to visit the country. You also need an ESTA. This is an electronic approval that permits you to travel to the U.S. However, the ESTA is not a final authorisation to enter the country because you will have to go through the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the airport.

Failure to get the ESTA approval before your trip could have you delayed upon arrival, or sent back. Everyone traveling to the UK, whether by air or sea will require an ESTA. Even when on transit to another country, you must obtain one.


Who is Eligible for an ESTA?

You must complete an ESTA form if:

  • You are a citizen of any of the 38 designated countries in the US Visa Waiver Program.
  • You don’t have a U.S. visitor’s visa.
  • You are staying in the U.S. for a duration of not up to 90 days
  • You are traveling for either business or vacation purposes.
  • You have a return or onward bound flight ticket.

How to Get an ESTA

An ESTA form can only be obtained online via the United States Department of Homeland Security website. Upon completion of your application, you will receive a reference number which you are advised to keep. You could also print out the authorisation page (if necessary).

The total cost of an ESTA application is $14 (or its equivalent in your currency). All travellers are required to have an e-Passport to obtain an ESTA. This means passports that were issued before October 2006, and have no electronic chip must be updated to get an ESTA.

When to Apply for An ESTA

You are advised to apply for an ESTA before purchasing your flight tickets or accommodation, just in case your application to travel to the United States is denied. It could take up to 72 hours so it is advisable to apply for your ESTA early. Although a last-minute application may be possible, it isn’t guaranteed. Besides, you may not be permitted to board the airplane without an ESTA approval.

Questions You’ll Answer

When filling the form, you’ll be asked about your home address, passport number, expiry date, departure airport, flight number and airline. You’ll also be expected to fill in the address where you’ll be staying in the U.S. However, for obvious reasons, the airline and address details can be updated at a later time.

Your ESTA visa is valid for 2 years, or when your passport expires, whichever comes first. Then, you’ll have to fill in another application. If your application is rejected, you are expected to fill a non-immigrant visa form for the U.S. Your fee will also be partly refunded.


Can I apply for an ESTA as a group?

Yes. To submit a group application, complete and submit the initial application first. Before you pay, select any of the following options “Add New Application” or “Add Unpaid Application”. On the next page, enter the personal details of the members as requested. When you complete and submit, you’ll receive a group identification number which you must keep.

What about citizens of non-VWP countries?

Only citizens or nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries can apply for an ESTA.

What if I am a citizen of a VWP and I am arriving the United States from a non-VWP country?

All VWP travellers entering the country by a U.S. bound plane or vessel, must obtain an approved ESTA, regardless of country of departure or embarkation.

Can I apply for an ESTA with less than 72 hours left before my flight to the U.S.?

Although the U.S. CBP advises you apply at least 72 hours before your U.S. bound airplane departs, you may still do so any time before boarding. In most cases, you receive a response within seconds of submission. However, it is not guaranteed. Avoid completing an application under duress, or you could make a mistake.

What happens to VWP travellers without an ESTA? Will they be prevented from entering the country? Will CBP have authority to grant emergency permits at their discretion?

To begin with, a VWP-citizen traveller may not be permitted to board a plane without an ESTA. The CPB handles emergencies on a case by case basis.

For more information about ESTA, visit the website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Remember, planning is most effective when you have substantial time. Ensure that you begin your preparations from the get go.

Happy holidays.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of Tripatini to add comments!

Join Tripatini