Travel has been highly encouraged these past few months, especially as the world is slowly reopening its borders to recover from the global health crisis. This effort is particularly true for the United States.
In fact, the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in the United Kingdom even states that they “want people to visit and do business in the United States.” The good news is that you might not even have to apply for a visa, thanks to a program called ESTA.
In this article, we will answer the most frequently asked questions about this process and how a UK citizen can apply for ESTA.
What Is a Visa Waiver Program?
To better understand how to apply for ESTA USA, one should first be aware of what the visa waiver program is. Also known as VWP, it allows people to enter the US either by air or by sea, even without a visa, as long as they belong to a VWP country. If they do, they should apply for an ESTA US instead of a visa.
What Is a VWP Country?
A VWP Country is a nation whose citizens are allowed by the US to enter their country even without a visa. There are currently 39 countries included in the VWP countries list. These are:
- Czech Republic
- Republic of Korea
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- United Kingdom
Please note that the list of VWP countries is not bound to permanence. In other words, the US government may change them at any time.
Here’s a related question that some of our readers also ask: What if you were previously denied a visa before you became a UK citizen? Will you be able to register for ESTA US?
Unfortunately, there is a huge chance that you’ll get denied an ESTA application. Since this is rather incidental, we still recommend inquiring directly from the US Embassy itself. You may also choose to apply for a visa instead.
What Is ESTA?
Now that you have a better understanding of a visa waiver program, we can move on to ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. In a nutshell, it is a visa waiver program that allows a person to enter the US, whether by sea or by air, even without a visa and stay for less than 90 days.
Will You Still Need an ESTA If You Have a Visa?
No, you will not need an ESTA US if you already have a visa. Having one means you are not a citizen of a VWP country anyway. If you believe you do not qualify for an ESTA and wish to apply for a visa, you’ll be pleased to learn that there are a lot of online references on how to get one instead.
Who Needs an ESTA?
You will need an ESTA US if:
- You are a citizen of the UK (or any VWP country).
- You plan on entering the US by sea or by air.
- You plan on travelling to the US for less than 90 days, either for business or pleasure.
That said, travellers entering the US by land (such as citizens of Canada or Mexico) won’t require an ESTA anymore.
Who Is Eligible for an ESTA?
You may be deemed eligible for an ESTA as long as you are not:
- A citizen of a non-VWP country
- Travelling to the US for a reason other than business or pleasure
- Intending to stay in the US for more than 90 days
- You are required to apply for a non-immigrant visa, or the rules of the Immigration and Nationality Act apply to your case.
That said, special circumstances might render you ineligible for an ESTA US. There are even cases where the US Customs and Border Protection (or the CBP) won’t be able to disclose why your travel authorisation was denied.
In addition, those who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, might be ineligible as well. If you are not confident about your eligibility due to certain reasons or your travel history, it would be best to contact the CBP directly.
Can You Apply for an ESTA as a Group?
You can send your ESTA US application as an individual traveller or as part of a group consisting of up to 50 people. A group application may also be processed in a single payment.
It is understandable for one to worry about whether this group will be required to travel together—they’re not. That said, they will get a unique ID number they will share among themselves.
Can a Child Apply for an ESTA?
Yes, even children are required their own ESTA if they are travelling to the US from a VWP country. This applies to both accompanied and unaccompanied children travellers. It is up to their legal guardian to submit an application form on their behalf. Finally, they will also need an unexpired passport to qualify.
How Can You Apply for an ESTA?
If you believe that you are eligible for an ESTA US, simply follow the steps below:
Step 1: Get your requirements ready.
The first step you should take is to prepare the necessary documents and requirements. These include a valid passport issued by a VWP country, a valid email address, a valid home address and contact number, an emergency contact (with both a phone number and an email), and finally, an accepted payment method.
There are different valid payment methods for you to choose from. These include VISA, MasterCard, Discover (as long as it’s either JCB or Diners Club), American Express, and PayPal.
Please note that this list of requirements may change depending on your specific case. For instance, some travellers may also be required to present their employer address and contact information as well as their US point of contact’s address and contact information.
Keep in mind that there are certain passport requirements to qualify for the visa waiver program as well. These are the following:
- You must have an electronic passport equipped with a digital chip containing your biometric information.
- Your passport must have a machine-readable zone on its biographic page.
- While this doesn’t apply to UK travellers, Taiwanese passport holders must also provide their Passport Number and Personal Identification Number (or PIN).
Step 2: Start the application.
You may do so by logging into the CBP Official ESTA Application page. The landing page will immediately present two options: create a new application or continue an existing one. Provide all the required information in the application form until you need to answer eligibility questions.
Step 3: Review your application.
Double-check that all of the information you have provided is correct and accurate to the best of your knowledge. Please note that small mistakes and inaccuracies can get your application denied.
You will also need to take note of your application number. This will come in handy when checking the status of your ESTA application.
Step 4: Make the payment.
You may refer to the accepted payment methods we have listed earlier. According to the CBP website, the fee for application currently costs $14. However, we acknowledge that the rate will probably be a bit higher if you are applying through a travel agency. In addition, CBP will only charge you $4 if your application gets denied.
Step 5: Wait for approval.
You may check the status of your pending ESTA application using the application number provided. You can also expect updates via the email you have provided in your online form. This email notification is usually sent within a few hours after successfully submitting your application. It can sometimes take up to 72 hours, though.
When Do You Need To File for an ESTA Application?
It is recommended for a traveller to process their ESTA application at least 72 hours before their departure to avoid any unnecessary delays.
We understand that it can be possible to completely forget filing for an ESTA application until the last minute, especially for urgent travel. If you find yourself in this position, don’t panic. Instead, visit the ESTA page right away to begin processing your application. After all, there is still a good chance for it to get approved instantly (or at least before you depart).
Unfortunately, if your application doesn’t push through, there is also a possibility you won’t be allowed to board your flight. In any case, you might find yourself being turned away by customs upon your arrival.
How Much Does an ESTA Cost?
As mentioned, an ESTA application costs $14 (or around £9) per person if approved and $4 if not. In addition, you might want to check if your credit card charges for conversion. After all, you will be charged in USD rather than GBP.
Is It Required for Me To Present My ESTA at the Airport?
While having a copy of your ESTA authorisation is not required according to US regulations, it will still be wise to carry a copy just in case your airline requires one. It is also advised to keep your ESTA application number handy.
Should you forget it, don’t worry. You can get this information from the official website of ESTA by providing your information. These include your name, birth date, passport number, and the country that issued your passport.
Will Having an ESTA Guarantee Entry Into the US?
In pursuance of the Visa Waiver Program, any traveller with an ESTA will be entitled to travel to the US. However, your entry will still boil down to whether the customs official and border guard deem you eligible to enter the country.
How Long Is an ESTA Valid?
An ESTA has a validity of two years, but it can be invalidated should your passport expire before that period. Please keep in mind that renewing an expired passport within a two-year period won’t renew your ESTA. Thus, you will need to submit a new ESTA application.
Can an ESTA Be Renewed?
No, an ESTA cannot be renewed. However, you may submit a new application once your ESTA expires (or loses its validity after your passport expires).
What Can I Do if My ESTA Got Denied?
The first step you need to do after getting denied is to review the information you have submitted. Doing this can help you determine why your application got rejected. You may also consult the CBP website to shed light on the matter. Making modifications to your ESTA application is allowed as long as these changes are limited to your travelling information.
Once you have determined why you have been rejected, and it’s a factor that would change in the near future, wait for your circumstances to change and resubmit your application. You can submit a new application at least 10 days after the previous one got denied.
If you think you have dealt with the factor that got you rejected the last time and still found yourself denied, it would be ideal for you to contact the CBP directly for more specific information.
It could prove quite tempting to tweak your information to get approved. However, please refrain from doing so, as it could lead you to lose your right to travel via the visa-free travel program permanently.
Processing Your ESTA Application as a UK Citizen
Indeed, we are very fortunate that the UK is a VWP country. This makes travelling to the US more convenient. Because of the visa waiver program, there is no need for UK citizens to apply for a visa for quick US trips both for business or pleasure.
An ESTA application may be submitted not just for adult individual travellers but also for children and group travellers. This quick guide might not be enough to cover all your queries about the program. Even so, we hope it still proves helpful in your application. We wish you safe travels!