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All USA travel needs ESTA

How to pay no more than the $14 fee

Everyone from the UK going to the USA by air or sea, even those just passing through, must fill out an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) form in advance.

This guide explains what the ESTA is, how to get it, how long it lasts for, what to be wary of and how to avoid paying more than the official $14-per-person fee. It's now been more than five years since the scheme became compulsory, so check yours now to see if you need a new one.

Everyone from the UK going to the US by air or sea, even those just passing through, must fill out an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) form in advance.

This guide explains ESTA and how to avoid paying more than the official $14-per-person fee.

The five ESTA need-to-knows

  1. You MUST complete the ESTA, even if passing through

    Everyone going to the States by air or sea needs to fill out an ESTA form. If you haven't, even if you're only meant to be in transit, you may be denied boarding or can even be sent straight back home. See Who should complete the ESTA for more info.

  2. You can only fill it out online

    You must fill out the ESTA application online, which means for those without web access you'll need to find a friend, relative or colleague to do it for you. Once you've done it, make sure you keep a note of your reference number somewhere safe. Better still, print the authorisation page (see How to complete the ESTA).

  3. It costs $14, but ensure you pay the cheapest way

    All accepted applications have a fee of $14 each ($4 if you're rejected); that's $56 (around £33) for a family of four. Ensure you pay with the right piece of plastic to avoid being charged a foreign exchange 'load' fee on top by your bank. See Pay with the right card for more info.

  4. Watch out for shyster ESTA sites

    When Googling ESTA, be warned you may be directed to sites that pretend to be the official web page and charge you an additional fee to process your application. Always use the official ESTA site. See Shyster Sites for more on this.

  5. You need to renew after two years

    If you already have ESTA but need a new one (for example, if you've lost your passport or your existing authorisation has expired), the only way to renew is to complete a new application and get a new reference number. If you're unsure if you're still covered, check when yours expires on the ESTA website.

What's ESTA?

statue of liberty coinESTA is an online system that tells you in advance whether you're eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Pay the $14 fee with the right plastic

ten dollar billESTA applications have a $14 fee attached to them - that's a hefty $56 for a family of four.

How to apply for ESTA

ESTA application process
ESTA application process

Just before booking flights or accommodation, the very first thing to do is to apply for your permit to travel, just in case you're rejected (so you don't lose the flight or hotel money) or forget nearer the time of the journey.

Don't risk travelling without it

If you haven't completed the ESTA before travelling, or you did but were declined, you may not be allowed to board your outbound flight.

Other things to consider

Who's eligible and who needs ESTA

A green I-94W form is mostly no longer needed

Lost your reference number and need to make an amendment?

Get a new passport, get a new ESTA

You need ESTA if travelling to Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands

You only need ESTA if travelling by air or sea