Getting an ESTA: why it's essential for travel to America

How to get authorisation to travel to - or via - the States without a visa

5 minutes

As well as your ticket and travel insurance, you'll need an ESTA to travel to the United States.

Unless you have ESTA authorisation to travel or a visa, you'll be denied entry into the country. 

What does ESTA stand for?

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. It allows you to travel to America without a visa if you’re travelling from a country that's part of the Visa Waiver Program.

The Visa Waiver Program is a list of 38 countries whose citizens can travel to the States without a visa, as long as they have travel authorisation.  The United Kingdom is included in the list of 38. As long as you qualify for an ESTA, you won’t need a visitor’s visa.

You'll need to apply for your ESTA before you travel to the US by air or sea.

Who can apply for an ESTA?

If you hold a British passport with an electronic chip in it and you plan to visit the US for business or pleasure for less than 90 days, you can apply for an ESTA. Even if you're only transiting through the US, you’ll still need an ESTA. If you're going to the States for longer, or plan to live and work in the US, you should apply for the relevant visa.

You'll need to apply for your ESTA before you travel to the US by air or sea. If you come overland, from Canada for example, you'll be asked to fill in a different form, unless you already have a valid ESTA.

Remember to put your worldwide travel insurance in place before you travel as well. Medical treatment in the States is expensive. There’s no equivalent to the NHS and no special arrangements are in place with the US, like there are with many European countries.

How can I get an ESTA?

The only way to apply for an ESTA is online. Applications take about 20 minutes and you can be told straightaway whether you can travel. However, US Customs and Border Protection suggest you allow at least 72 hours before travelling to complete your application.

We suggest you apply for an ESTA before you book your tickets to travel. Then you won't lose out financially if your application is rejected.

An ESTA isn't a visa and it doesn't give you an automatic right to enter the US. It simply allows you to travel to the States. It’s up to Border Protection officers to decide whether or not to let you in.

How much does an ESTA cost?

A successful application for an ESTA will cost US$14 per person. If your ESTA application is denied you’ll only be charged a processing fee of US$4.

Be careful when you’re applying for your ESTA, as there are some third party websites that will claim to make an application on your behalf and charge extra for doing so. If you’ve paid more than US$14 for your ESTA, US Customs and Border Protection recommend that you check your ESTA reference number before travelling to make sure your registration is legitimate and the information correct.



How long does the ESTA last?

The travel authorisation lasts two years from when it’s approved. You can check online for the date it is due to expire.

If your passport expires before the ESTA, you'll need to apply for a new authorisation to travel when you get your new passport.

In the two years the ESTA is in place, you can make multiple trips to the US for business or pleasure, as long as you don't stay more than 90 days. LV= offers annual-travel-insurance that covers you for up to 90 days at a time.


What if my ESTA application is not authorised?

If your travel is not authorised, you will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa to the US at a US Embassy or Consulate. This may cause a problem if you need to travel immediately as there's no guarantee you’ll get an urgent appointment to sort out a visa, so allow plenty of time to apply for your ESTA if you can.