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News & Advice

What red tape must I tackle for a US trip?

Travel Q&A

Q. My daughter and I are both British passport holders and are visiting the States this summer. The last time I went, I got in with the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Having looked at the US Embassy website, it is a minefield to know whether or not I need to apply for an “Esta”. Parts of it says I do not and other parts indicate that I need to.Can we still use the VWP instead? Raymond Browett, London

A. For a holiday or business trip, you will certainly need to apply online for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (Esta); unless permission is granted, you will not be allowed to check in for your flight.

The Americans stress that you should apply at least 72 hours before your flight So long as you go through the official US website, esta.cbp.dhs.gov,  it should be a straightforward process. You pay a fee of $14 per person (about £8), whether or not your application is successful.

The information you supply goes to the Department for Homeland Security and other US agencies to be checked against their records. Most applicants are granted an Esta (valid for two years) swiftly after submitting the online form. Others are told their application is under review, and get permission a few days later. But if your application is rejected – for reasons such as sharing the same name as a “person of interest” to the US authorities – then you have no option but to go through the expensive business of applying for a visa.

Assuming the Esta is granted, you are able to get on the plane (subject to some enhanced security screening before your flight). Upon arrival you face additional questioning and must also have your fingerprints and photograph taken.