The United States has historically been a popular destination for Brits. Whether it be for a holiday or a short business trip, there are always reasons to visit our cousins across the pond. But travel to the USA can be expensive, from flight tickets to accommodation and visas. However, visas, like other expenses when travelling overseas, are an area where money can be saved. This can is done by applying for an ESTA.
The USA has one of the most extensive visa systems in the world, with over 185 visas to choose from. These vary from holiday visas, visas for individuals on the NAFTA list, visas for religious workers, transit visas and a whole load more. In short, there is a visa for everything, not the least of which for business trips.
Naturally, most people think they need one of these visas to enter the country. After all, chances are slim your travel purpose is not listed among them. However, British travellers also have another, much cheaper option: the ESTA.
The ESTA is part of the United States' Visa Waiver Program, also known as the ESTA system. This program includes close to 40 countries. Citizens of these countries can travel to the USA without needing a visa. Instead of applying for a visa, an ESTA can be applied for online without needing to go to the embassy or consulate.
Generally, this feature is only available to countries with which the US government has close ties. Unsurprisingly, the UK is part of the program, meaning British travellers can travel with an ESTA.
There are a number of benefits attached to the ESTA program, which is why so many countries are desperate to join it. For one, an ESTA is much cheaper than most US visas. If you're going on a holiday or business trip, the ESTA is by far the cheapest option. Additionally, ESTAs are approved much faster than a visa too. It's not uncommon for an ESTA application to be approved the same day, sometimes even within the hour. In contrast, visa applications can take weeks and even months to be processed.
No embassy visit required
As briefly mentioned above, an ESTA application is submitted online. You do not need to visit to the embassy, either before or after the ESTA is approved. You will never receive a call to come by the embassy for an interview or to have your fingerprints taken. Everything happens online, which is another major benefit. Depending on where you live, a visit to the embassy in London can quickly become an expensive ordeal.
To apply for an ESTA, you need to fill out the online application form, which generally takes five to ten minutes. Afterwards, the required payment is made and the ESTA is then processed. Approval often takes place the same day.
An ESTA is not a paper document that needs to be printed. Instead, it is electronically linked to the applicant's passport. In order to board the plane, you simply have to present your passport and have it scanned.
I'm British but I can't get an ESTA?
In theory, all British citizens by default qualify for an ESTA permit. However, there are a number of requirements attached to getting an ESTA, and failure to meet them means you can't submit an ESTA application. For instance, you must not have been to Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Yemen, or Somalia since 2011. You also cannot have been convicted of any offences that led to serious injury to another person. Likewise, conviction for possession, usage or distribution of drugs automatically disqualifies you for an ESTA.
In short, an ESTA is by far the cheapest option to travel to the USA if you are a Brit. However, before applying make sure you qualify, or you risk spending money for an ESTA application only to have it denied.
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