Traveling to USA: What is ESTA, and Why Do You Need it?
Those of you who have traveled to the USA in the past will recall filling out green forms on the flight in (or while standing in the immigration queue if you forgot!).
In the last few years, these green forms have been replaced by ESTA.
ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and is an online service that allows you to apply for eligibility to travel to the USA.
A successful ESTA application is valid for two years, and the status of you application (and whether you need to fill out a new one or not) can be checked online (on the ESTA website) by entering in your reference number.
It is important to note that just because you successfully apply for an ESTA application this doesn’t mean you will be guaranteed entry to the U.S. upon arrival, it just means you’re ‘eligible to travel’. It is then up to the US Customs & Border Protection officer to decide your fate (i.e. whether you’re allowed in to the country or not).
For all travelers to the USA, ESTA is compulsory, and must be completed at least 72 hours before you travel (so don’t leave it until the last minute!).
Note also that if your ESTA application was declined (or you didn’t bother to apply for one) you probably won’t be allowed to board your flight to the USA, and even if you are you’ll be turned away as soon as you arrive at immigration (meaning it’s pointless to travel without a successful ESTA application).
If you suspect that you might be rejected (for whatever reason), it’s a good idea to fill out your ESTA before you book your flights/vacation to the USA (as you won’t be able to travel there if you’re rejected).
Oftentimes, you’ll be told almost instantly whether your application has been successful or not, so it’s best to do it as soon as possible.
Filling out the ESTA form is pretty straightforward. You just need to give your basic details (so make sure you have your passport on hand) and answer some simple questions.
Finally, the U.S Government now charges $14 (per person) for an ESTA application. Make sure to have your credit card handy to pay this on the spot.
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