Frequently Asked Questions About ESTA Visas

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While many people refer to them as “ESTA visas,” they are not exactly a visa! It can be a bit confusing as to exactly what an ESTA is simply because some countries don’t have them. The UK, for example, doesn’t offer them but Australia does have a similar program and so you may be a bit familiar with them in principle. But what exactly are they and what should you know about getting yours in order if you plan to travel to the United States? Before getting into some of the most frequently asked questions about ESTA visas, let’s get a bit of background.

A Brief Understanding of the Visa Waiver Program

In order to understand what an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is, it’s important to get a bit of background. This is actually filed under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in the United States wherein certain ‘friendly’ nations are not required to have a travel visa any longer. The ESTA is, as the name implies, a way of registering for travel under the VWP so that the US Department of Homeland Security can track visitors coming into and back out of the United States. Now, let’s get to those Frequently Asked Questions!

Is the UK One of the Participating VWP Countries?

Yes, the UK is one of 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program in the United States. The two countries have extremely strong political ties and, as a result, UK citizens are not generally seen as posing any threat to Homeland Security.

So, Why the ESTA If There Is a Waiver?

Here it gets a bit tricky. Although UK citizens are close allies of the United States, it is not outside the realm of possibility that some citizens may be members of known terrorist groups. These may be UK citizens who’ve applied for citizenship but are natural citizens of countries with widespread terrorist activities. While rare, the US Department of Homeland Security needs to monitor everyone going into and out of their country by any sea or air vessel.

How Can I Register for an ESTA?

You can go directly to the Department of Homeland Security website, but for UK citizens, it is often easier to register through the portal at https://www.esta-waiver.co.uk/. This portal is specific to the UK and so has information and a list of other FAQs pertinent to the United Kingdom.

When Should I Register for an ESTA Permit?

You must register for an ESTA permit at least 72 hours prior to embarking on your trip to the United States. You can do so through the above-mentioned portal or directly at the DHS government website. It is recommended that you immediately print a copy (or two in case of loss!), so that you can have one on you at all times during your travels through the United States, and maybe even beyond to other North or South American countries.

How Long Is an ESTA Permit Valid?

ESTA’s are valid for a period of time not exceeding 90 consecutive days. You can enter the United States as many times as you’d like as long as none of those visits exceed 90 days. Many business travelers need to know this because they may take several trips to and from the USA in any given year. Each ESTA is valid for a period of two years from the time of registration, as long as your passport remains valid during that time and no travel restrictions have been placed on your passport.

What Information Do I Need to Register for an ESTA Permit?

Before you can register with the DHS for an ESTA, you must hold a valid UK passport. Any data requested can be transferred from that. It is highly recommended that you check for the accuracy of any and all information being transferred because it is not outside the realm of possibility that a name, address or even birth dates can be transferred incorrectly. Before paying the registration fee and hitting submit, ensure all data is accurate and up to date.

How Much Does the Registration Fee Cost?

Since the program was initiated in 2010, the United States has been charging $14, which includes a processing fee of $4 and a $10 for the approval process. Since the conversion rate is constantly in flux, that will convert to Pounds Sterling. Referred to as the Great British Pound, the exchange rate as of April 14, 2019, is $1 (USD) = £0.76 (GBP). That rate can fluctuate by a few pence daily, so if you are concerned you can use this calculator.

It’s wonderful to know that there are 38 nations considered to have solid relationships with the United States and that the UK is so closely allied. This makes travel to and from a whole lot easier than in days gone by, but still that ESTA must be in place before embarking on your journey.

When Should I Register for an ESTA Permit?

You must register for an ESTA permit at least 72 hours prior to embarking on your trip to the United States. You can do so through the above-mentioned portal or directly at the DHS government website. It is recommended that you immediately print a copy (or two in case of loss!), so that you can have one on you at all times during your travels through the United States, and maybe even beyond to other North or South American countries.

How Long Is an ESTA Permit Valid?

ESTA’s are valid for a period of time not exceeding 90 consecutive days. You can enter the United States as many times as you’d like as long as none of those visits exceed 90 days. Many business travelers need to know this because they may take several trips to and from the USA in any given year. Each ESTA is valid for a period of two years from the time of registration, as long as your passport remains valid during that time and no travel restrictions have been placed on your passport.

What Information Do I Need to Register for an ESTA Permit?

Before you can register with the DHS for an ESTA, you must hold a valid UK passport. Any data requested can be transferred from that. It is highly recommended that you check for the accuracy of any and all information being transferred because it is not outside the realm of possibility that a name, address or even birth dates can be transferred incorrectly. Before paying the registration fee and hitting submit, ensure all data is accurate and up to date.

How Much Does the Registration Fee Cost?

Since the program was initiated in 2010, the United States has been charging $14, which includes a processing fee of $4 and a $10 for the approval process. Since the conversion rate is constantly in flux, that will convert to Pounds Sterling. Referred to as the Great British Pound, the exchange rate as of April 14, 2019, is $1 (USD) = £0.76 (GBP). That rate can fluctuate by a few pence daily, so if you are concerned you can use this calculator.

It’s wonderful to know that there are 38 nations considered to have solid relationships with the United States and that the UK is so closely allied. This makes travel to and from a whole lot easier than in days gone by, but still that ESTA must be in place before embarking on your journey.

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