How to successfully apply for ESTA before going to the USA under the new Visa Waiver Program
Are you heading over to the United States? Make sure you visit the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website in view of the new Visa Waiver Program's electronic application system. (Credit to BW reader Lam for giving us the heads up)
As of yesterday, the United States government will be implementing this system for those who wish to visit the United States. You need to apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before your departure, whether by air or by sea. You can apply in advance as well through their website.
You'll be required to fill out a simple form, and approval is almost instantaneous. Be ready with your passport and travel info. Applying for ESTA is free of charge, and it is good for 2 years, so you don't have to keep doing this once you've been approved.
In order to enjoy visa-less travel to US, you must meet these conditions:
* You are a citizen or a national of a country which enjoys the Visa Waiver Program (UK is one of these countries.)
* You don't have a visitor's visa.
* Your travel is less than 3 months or 90 days.
* Your US travel plans are geared towards business or leisure.
* You must have a machine-readable passport. (This type of passport contains two lines and chevrons below the personal information page.) If your passport was renewed before October 26, 2005, your old passport needs to have a digital ID picture or an electronic chip.
If you want to stay in the US for more than 3 months or plan to arrive via a non-signatory carrier, you need to apply for the Visa Waiver Program.
Here are 4 steps to follow for a successful application:
Step 1: Complete your application. Besides knowing basic information (your full name, birth date, gender, country of origin and citizenship, telephone number, e-mail address, passport information), you will also need your travel schedule. This means your airline carrier code, flight number, and city where you will be boarding. It's recommended that you reserve a flight before you spend the money in the unlikely case that the application fails for any reason. There are approximately seven security questions regarding your health status, conviction status, etc. Note: if you plan to visit US with an infant/child, you must apply for him or her as well.
Step 2: Submit your application. Make sure your information is accurate, especially your name! It would help to print a copy of the application at this stage because if you have already submitted your application, you cannot print the application anymore. However, ESTA points out that it is not necessary. Worthwhile having a copy though, in my opinion, even though I've been told that all data is stored on their system electronically upon approval, and is not necessary. But better safe than sorry.
Step 3: Keep your Application Number. You will be given an application number. It is important that you jot this down. You need this to check your application status on the website (other info needed for this include your passport number and birth date.)
Step 4: Wait for the response to your application. In most events, the ESTA Application Status will be sent immediately. It might reach a maximum of 3 days for other cases. You might receive any of the 3 status:
Authorization Approved. This doesn't guarantee automatic admission to US. An officer for Customs and Border Protection at the port of entry will have the final say, and you still have to fill in other forms and answer questions.
Travel Not Authorized. If you get this, you will need to obtain a visa from the Department of State. You can visit www.travel.state.gov for more info. But don't fret, as you are only prohibited under the bylaws of the Visa waiver program.
Authorization pending. Your application is under review, as an immediate determination cannot be employed. This might last up to 3 days. You can recheck your status as often as you want via the ESTA website.
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