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What is an ESTA?

If you are planning a fun-filled trip to the USA, and are travelling from a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program or (VWP), by sea or air, then you will need to apply online for travel authorisation (an ESTA) in advance, using the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. This is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors travelling to the United States, and allows you to travel visa-free. An ESTA allows the Department of Homeland Security to pre-screen all Visa Waiver travellers before leaving their respective countries. You can (only) apply for an ESTA online via the official U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

ESTA has replaced the old out-dated system of filling out a green I-94W form which acted as a Visa Waiver that you completed on the plane, whilst travelling to the USA. The difficulty with this method was that you would only find out on arrival, at your U.S. destination airport, if the U.S. Security decided you didn’t fit under the VWP using this form and added questions - with an ESTA you know in advance if you’re okay to travel or not.

What will you need for your ESTA application?

To apply online for an ESTA you will need the following:

  • To be a citizen, or national, of a Visa Waiver Program country
  • To not currently possess a visitor’s visa
  • To be travelling for 90 days or less
  • To be travelling to the USA for either tourism or business
  • A valid passport from a Visa Waiver Program country
  • A valid bank or credit card to make the online application payment
  • Your contact details
  • Your recent employment details (if applicable)

How many countries are part of the Visa Waiver Program?

There are 38 countries that are part of the VWP, these include:

Andorra Hungary Norway
Australia Iceland Portugal
Austria Ireland San Marino
Belgium Italy Singapore
Brunei Japan Slovakia
Chile Latvia Slovenia
Czech Republic Liechtenstein South Korea
Denmark Lithuania Spain
Estonia Luxembourg Sweden
Finland Malta Switzerland
France Monaco Taiwan
Germany Netherlands United Kingdom
Greece New Zealand


How much does an ESTA cost?

An ESTA costs $14 which translates to about £10 in the UK, per person and is paid online at the end of your application process. If your application is rejected it costs $4 (about £3). The cost of an ESTA is per application and not per entry to the USA. $4 of the fee covers administration costs and $10 goes to a fund which helps promote U.S. tourism.

How long can you stay in the USA with an ESTA?

Although an ESTA is valid for up to 2 years, it only allows you to stay in the USA for up to 90 days. If you require a longer stay for your holiday or business trip then you will need to apply for a B1 or B2 visa.

Do you need to print your ESTA before you travel?

U.S. regulation doesn’t require a VWP traveller to show a printed copy of their ESTA authorisation page, however it would be a good idea to print it and keep it for your own records (just in case you are not emailed a copy, be sure to print this whilst you are making your application). You could also be asked by your specific airline to bring proof of your ESTA application along, in which case you would need to print it - so always check with your airline.

If you lose your copy it is possible to get it back using the official ESTA website. Just click 'Retrieve my application' and enter your name, passport number and date of birth. This is also a handy way to check if you are still covered by a previous ESTA (if you have one) as the website will tell you when your ESTA expires.

How long does an ESTA take to process?

You could be told if your application has been accepted or rejected within seconds of applying. Or, you may be asked to check your application status later, as a decision can take up to 72 hours. Good practice would be to apply at least 72 hours before you travel (just in case there is a delay in your application being processed for security reasons).

An ESTA lasts for two years, or until your passport expires, whichever is sooner and once it runs out, you will need to apply for a new one. Once an ESTA application is approved, you will be notified either via your web browser or via email. The approval notification will contain the application or authorisation number, the expiry date of the ESTA as well as other applicant information provided at the time of submission.

Do you need a visa to visit the USA from UK?

Most passport holders can apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) through the Visa Waiver Program, which allows travel to the USA for up to 90 days. You will generally qualify to enter the USA using the VWP if your British passport describes you as a ‘British Citizen’ or has a recognised e-Passport electronic chip that indicates a biometric passport.

Do you need travel insurance for visiting the USA?

Travel insurance is absolutely vital if you’re travelling to the USA. If you fall ill you could be stuck with extremely high costs to pay. The best advice would be to make sure that you get a travel insurance USA package with high levels of medical expenses cover. This is important as there is no reciprocal healthcare agreement in place for visitors to the USA travelling from the UK. American medical fees can be extremely high and if you require medical treatment whilst you are there, you will have to pay in full. Travel insurance will offer the valuable safety net you need for your trip. Learn more about our travel insurance for USA.

Important facts to know about ESTA

ESTA approval doesn’t always guarantee entry into the USA

Don’t panic, as the chances of being rejected once you arrive in the USA are extremely rare and are under specific circumstances. It’s important to understand that successfully applying for an ESTA doesn't mean you're automatically allowed to enter the USA. An ESTA establishes that you are 'eligible to travel' but only a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, at the point of entry, can decide whether you're actually allowed in or not. He or she may decide that you don't fit the VWP criteria and it's completely at their discretion.

There are fake ESTA application websites out there

Be careful when you are applying for an ESTA and be sure to use their official website of the Department of Homeland Security. This is the only official website for ESTA applications and third-party companies who are charging a fee to assist travellers in registering under ESTA are not operating on behalf of the United States government and could be in it for application fees alone. There are many websites and Email scams which attempt to mislead customers and members of the public into thinking they are official U.S. government websites, so be careful and stick with the official government website.

Holiday Extras Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered address: Ashford Road, Newingreen, Kent CT21 4JF. Company number 01693250.

Holiday Extras is underwritten by Travel Insurance Facilities plc which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered address: 2nd Floor, 1 Tower View, Kings Hill, West Malling, Kent, ME19 4UY. Company number 03220410.