People of Britain and thirty-seven other countries!

Did you know that you can travel to the United States of America without a visa, and instead, travel there with an ESTA? ESTA is kind of like a visa, except it’s not. The purpose is similar, in that, you can travel to the United States, but the nature of both are completely different.

Visa Waiver Programme (VWP)

First and foremost, ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorisation was created by the US Department of Homeland Security to vet visitors before they enter the United States. Once an applicant has completed the ESTA application, their information is cross-referenced with a huge database to check if there should be any reason why the applicant cannot enter the country.

The ESTA application is completed online and that’s why it’s so quick to cross-reference fundamental information. What’s more, once the 30-minute application has been completed, a response should be granted to the applicant within minutes.

ESTA Visa: Sunset above the Chicago Skyline

Sunset above the Chicago Skyline

Responses you can receive from the ESTA application:

Authorization approved: This means that your ESTA has been approved and you’re free to travel to the United States.

Travel Not Authorized: If you receive this response, your application has been rejected and you will be required to apply for a normal non-immigrant visa at your local embassy or consulate.

Authorization Pending: If you receive this notification, your application is in the midst of being processed. You should re-visit the site within 72 hours to clarify your response.

* The whole process for processing an ESTA should take no longer than 72 hours. Therefore, it is advised to apply at least 72 hours before your depart to the US – just to be safe – however, in most circumstances, applications will be processed within minutes.

Compare and contrast

If you compare that process to a US visa application, which can take months to complete: with various forms and even a trip to the embassy – the whole visa process can be a long and miserable one. Furthermore, the cost of a visa can be upwards of $150 – ESTAs, on the other hand, a mere $14.

Now, you know what an ESTA is, but you might still be pondering who it’s for? Well, you’d be absolutely right to ponder. The answer is simple: citizens of 38 countries who hold an electronic passport and intend to visit the US for touristic or business purposes for no longer than 90 days. As well as, of course, those that have a connecting flight that lands in the US (for example, if you fly from London to Toronto, via New York).

The Golden Gate Bridge is a popular tourist destination in San Francisco California.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a popular tourist destination in San Francisco California.

Obviously, if you’re planning on travelling to the US for any other reason than tourism or business, you will require a visa. For example, let’s say that you want to start working, studying or you want to get married and live in the United States permanently, you’re going to need a visa. If you require a visa checkout https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html for more information.

Tips you should know about for ESTA

When you arrive at the airport on the United States soil, you don’t normally need to show proof of your ESTA authorisation. However, a selection of airlines flying to the States may request to see your ESTA information before you fly. So it’s better to print off your authorisation information just in case. You can never be too careful!

When you arrive in the United States using ESTA, the Customs and Border agents may request a copy of your travel itinerary. Thus, ensure to keep a copy of that information with you. It’s not uncommon for these agents to ask to prove that you also have the financial resources for the whole duration of your trip. Bare that in mind!

Once your ESTA has been granted to you, it will be valid for two years. That is unless your passport expires before that two year time period. If your passport expires before the two-year time frame, your ESTA will expire with it. For every new passport, a new travel authorisation will be required and that goes for lost or stolen passports too.

Blazing skies at Lake Tahoe's northern shore.

Blazing skies at Lake Tahoe’s northern shore in the State of Nevada.

Restrictions for applying

There are certain provisions that can prohibit you from applying:

  • If you have been arrested for certain crimes – even if the arrest didn’t result in a criminal record
  • If you hold a dual nationality with Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria
  • If you have travelled to or been present in Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since March 2011
  • If you have any communicable diseases such as: Chancroid, Gonorrhea, Granuloma inguinale, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, Leprosy – infectious, Lymphogranuloma venereum, Syphilis – infectious stage, Tuberculosis – active.

*Please note that a cold or flu will not prohibit you from entering the United States.

Six month Club: Passport

When you travel to the United States of America, it is mandatory to have at least 6 months left on your passport beyond your intended stay in the country. However, that rule does not apply to citizens of the ‘Six Month Club’.

The Subway in Zion National Park in Utah.

The Subway in Zion National Park in Utah.

The Six Month Club is essentially for citizens of countries that do not have to have six months left on their passport beyond their intended stay. Instead, citizens of the six-month club only need to possess a valid passport up until their day of departure from the United States. A full list of the countries involved in the Six Month Club can be found here.

Additional travel tips for Brits heading to The States

Luggage

It’s estimated that 70% of Brits that venture to the United States, do so for recreational purposes such as retail therapy. That’s a lot of shopping. However, the other most common reason for a Brit to travel to the US is, of course, adventures and exploring. Travelling around the scenic landscapes that the US has to offer is arguably second to none.

For both trips, you will require a different type of luggage. Obviously, if you’re heading to the US for a spot of retail therapy, you’re going to need a rather large suitcase. That makes sense. But what about if you’re going to the US to explore and you’ve planned wild adventures? You’re going to need something a bit more agile. Something you can possibly carry. That’s exactly what I did… and I regret nothing.

Making your way across the US landscape is a joyous and monumental experience. Nobody wants to carry a suitcase across a desert or through the mountains though. C’mon, let’s be honest. You don’t, do you? Of course, you don’t!

My pro tip: find a travel rucksack. Although they are limited in space in comparison to a normal suitcase, they offer the flexibility and maneuverability that you simply cannot afford with the conventional case.

Travel Insurance

Next, you may or may not know this – Everybody travelling to the United States needs to acquire travel insurance or health insurance. The reason is simple. In the United States, they do not have a national health service.

Unlike other countries, such as the UK, treatment can be VERY expensive. It is not uncommon to have bills into the tens of thousands. Therefore, travel insurance is essential, albeit not mandatory. (I sprained my ankle playing football in New Jersey and spent 3 hours in the local hospital. The bill was for $3400.) Better to be safe than sorry, don’t you think?!

Skyscanner

Perhaps, you are in the process of trying to find flights to take you over to the land of the free. If you haven’t already done so, check out Skyscanner. For those of you that don’t know, they scan the whole market to find the cheapest deals from around the world. This resource is excellent and saved me a lot of money.

GET THE CHEAPEST FLIGHTS
Don't have set date for travel? Just enter in which month you want to travel. Let the flight search find the cheapest deal and then set up an alert. You'll get a message when the price drops on your holiday weekend! You can also download the app on your mobile phone for convenience. By far the best app I've used so far to find great deals on flights.
Android | iOS | Windows | Web

Also, if you’re flying from somewhere around the UK, Norwegian Airlines offer one-way flights for less than $65 to smaller airports in the US. Moreover, there is a range of low-cost airlines popping up, offering increasingly low fare options to travel to the states. So, keep your eyes open.

AirBnB/ Hostel World

These two apps can save you tonnes of money. Whilst travelling around the US, I spotted an advert for the latter and decided to give it a go. Low and behold, instead of paying $60 per night to stay in a 3-star hotel in Chicago, I managed to pull off a wonderful bargain in a hostel for $14 per person, per night. The only downside, of course, is that you may have to share with strangers. But if you’re okay with that, fire away.

TIP: SAVE TIME & MONEY
I book my all my advance or last minute hotel accommodation through these services. You are guaranteed the cheapest possible prices so you do away with all the hassles.
BOOKING | HOSTELWORLD

If you’re not looking to share with strangers, Airbnb is your best shot. With this app, you essentially rent a flat, room or whatever you fancy for as long as you want. It’s like living in your own house, but somewhere you’re not familiar with. It’s quite an exciting experience, I must admit.

Lyft

Last but not least, download the Lyft app. This app was crucial for exploring and adventures.  They were considerably cheaper than their competitors and the drivers were often more friendly. Obviously, the massive advantage with this is knowing where your cab is at any given time prior to arrival. I love that technology aspect.  Get involved.

WOULD YOU APPLY FOR THE ESTA?

ESTA Visa Waiver - The Best Way for Brits to Travel to the US

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This article was contributed by Josh Hobson


josh hobson
Hi, I’m Josh Hobson and I’ve created this website about ESTA to raise awareness of the wonderful programme. I was in Mexico last year and needed to get back to the US after my visa expired and luckily somebody told me about the ESTA. I love sushi, travelling and football!