Border control is notoriously strict in the USA, but with over 75 million tourists per year, do you need to a visa to take a holiday across the pond?
What is a visa?
A visa is a document that represents conditional permission from a country, to a non-citizen to enter, remain within or leave that country.
There are two main categories but they cover lots of different situations. Short-stay visas include tourist, business, working holiday, athletic and refugee whereas long-stay visas include student, temporary worker and residents.
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Do I need a visa?
The USA doesn’t require a travel visa from citizens of 38 qualifying countries, including the UK, under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).
You can apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) if:
- You’re a UK citizen visiting the US
- Your trip is 90 days or less
- Your journey is for business or pleasure
- You’re arriving by plane or cruise ship
Will I qualify for an ESTA?
You should be able to enter the USA using the VWP if your British passport:
- describes your nationality as a ‘British Citizen’
- is an ePassport
- haven’t been arrested for certain crimes
- aren’t a dual national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria
- haven’t travelled to Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since March 2011
- can prove you have enough money for your trip
However, a successful ESTA application doesn’t guarantee entry to the USA.
Most British tourists to the USA are allowed to enter under the VWP, and as long as you’re only intending to stay under the terms of the agreement, you should be granted entry.
When do I need to apply?
You must apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before your trip.
If your application is rejected, you’ll need to apply for a non-immigrant visa which involves an Embassy visit and an interview. It can be time-consuming and complicated, therefore it’s best to apply for an ESTA as soon as you book your trip.
How long does an ESTA last?
You’ll need to submit a new ESTA application after two years or if you renew your passport.
How much does it cost?
An ESTA application costs $14 (about £10.60) and is charged to your card in US Dollars. If your application is rejected, you’ll be refunded $10.
Check your bank’s conversion rates before applying as it could increase the overall cost.
How do I apply for an ESTA?
Applying for an ESTA is a simple process that takes about 5-7 minutes. You’ll need your passport and payment card to hand. To apply:
- Visit the official ESTA website and enter your information
- Make your $14 ESTA payment
- Allow up to 72 hours for a response
- Once your ESTA is approved, you don’t need to take the information on your trip as it’s sent automatically to your airline.
What happens if I don’t have a travel visa?
If you don’t qualify for an ESTA, apply in time or have an alternative travel visa, it’s likely you won’t be allowed on the plane or in the country.