"Hi EssentialTravel.co.uk,
I'm travelling to the US soon on holiday. I'm told you need an ESTA to travel to the States. What is it, do I need it and how do I get it?"

- Chris Jones, London

Dear Chris,
We've put together a comprehensive list of answers to all of your questions about ESTA.

Who Needs an ESTA

Who should apply for an ESTA?
Everyone travelling to US under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) needs an ESTA. The VWP allows British passport holders to visit the US on business or leisure for up to 90 days. Remember that the US includes Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Wondering if you need travel insurance on top of your Health Insurance Card? We answer all your questions.

Do I need an ESTA if I have a visa?
No, the ESTA only applies if you travel without a visa under the Visa Waiver Programme.

Do I need an ESTA if I have a Green Card?
No, a valid Green Card allows you to travel freely to the US.

Do my children need an ESTA?
Yes, all children - regardless of age - need an ESTA as well.

Do I need an ESTA if I'm only flying through the US to another destination?
Yes, all transit flights through the US require an ESTA. Enter 'In transit' and your final destination under the heading 'Address While In The United States.'

Do I need an ESTA if I disembark from another country?
Yes. If you are a British passport holder using VWP, you need ESTA regardless of where you disembark from.

Do I need to reapply for an ESTA for every trip I make to the US?
No, the ESTA is valid for two years from the date it is first issued. This means you can make multiple entries to the US with one ESTA.

Do I need a new ESTA if I get a new passport?
Yes, any changes to your passport require you to apply for a new ESTA.

What does ESTA mean?
Electronic System for Travel Authorization

Why do I need an ESTA?
The ESTA is a compulsory pre-checking scheme enabling the Department of Homeland Security to determine whether an individual is eligible to enter the United States before they fly. Neither ESTA nor VWP guarantees that you will be admitted to the US - just that you have pre-approval to enter the country.

Getting an ESTA

How do I apply for an ESTA?
To apply for an ESTA visit - esta.cbp.dhs.gov - For help filling out the application visit: ESTA Help

When should I apply for an ESTA?
It is recommended that you apply as soon as you make plans to travel to the US. Should your ESTA application be rejected, you will have time to make alternative plans.

What do I need to apply?
You need a credit or debit card to pay for the application and your personal details to fill out the application. Have your itinerary and passport at hand to answer some of the questions.

How much does ESTA cost and how do I pay?
Getting an ESTA costs $14 (about £9). You can pay with a MasterCard, Visa, American Express or Discover credit card. Visa and MasterCard debit cards will do as well.

What if I don't have a firm itinerary?
The application does not require firm itinerary details. You can update your application closer to your departure.

Do I need a third party service for ESTA?
No. Your application will not go more quickly with a third party services and some services are known to overcharge. It's best to do ESTA on your own. The only circumstance where a third party - like a reputable travel agent - may be useful is if you do not have internet access.

How long does it take to get a response?
Most applications get a response almost immediately. The response will either be Authorization Approved (yay!), Authorization Pending or Travel Not Authorized. Authorization Pending may require that you check back in 72 hours for the final response (forgive the American spelling).

What do I do if my ESTA application is rejected?
Here's what you must not do: DO NOT reapply with false details. That will ensure you never get authorisation. The next step is to apply for a non-immigrant visa. Visit the US embassy website for more details.

Should I print out a copy of my ESTA form to show when boarding the plane?
No, the system is entirely automated. But it's never a bad idea to prepare for those rare days when technology fails.

Special Circumstances

I want to cross the border by car from Canada. Do I need ESTA?
No, you will not need an ESTA to cross the northern border - but you will need to fill out an I-94W form at the border (which will cost you $6).

Do I need to update details on the ESTA if I reuse it?
Yes, it is recommended that you update your details on subsequent visits.

Do I need an ESTA to fly within the US?
No, ESTA only applies to flights coming into the US.

So, now you're clued up on the benefits of an ESTA card, you may be wondering...

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