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Electronic System for Travel Authorisation

With a valid ESTA you can visit the US for less than 90 days without needing a visa – as long as it's for a holiday or business trip. We’ve summarised how it works, how to get one and what you’ll need.

In this guide, we've shared details correct at the time of publish. For the most up to date guidance, please check the official ESTA website.

View of New York City and Statue of Liberty from the water

What is an ESTA?

An ESTA (officially known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is part of the United States Visa Waiver program. It lets you visit the US for a period of 90 days or less without the need for a visa – as long as it's for a holiday or a business trip.

An ESTA is open to all citizens of visa waiver countries, including the UK. You can check the full list of countries that are part of the program, on the US Customers and Border Protection visa waiver requirements page.

Do I need an ESTA?

You’ll need one if:

  • You're a UK citizen or a citizen from another visa waiver country visiting the US
  • Your trip is for 90 days or less and is for business or pleasure
  • You don’t already have a visa for visiting the US
  • You’re arriving by plane or cruise ship

Note that you’ll need an ESTA even if you’re only stopping briefly in the US to catch a connecting flight or ship in order to travel elsewhere.

If you're a UK citizen and plan to visit the USA, make sure you check the latest entry requirements well in advance of your trip so you have plenty of time to apply for any travel documents you need.

How can I apply?

You can apply for an ESTA for one person or a group of two or more people.

Apply for an ESTA online

  1. Apply online via the official ESTA website. This will help you avoid unnecessary costs and the risk of fraud that may come with using other sites that claim to also let you apply for an ESTA
  2. You’ll need a valid passport or passports from a visa waiver country, your home address, email and phone number, plus phone and email details for an emergency point of contact. Where necessary you may be asked for other information, such as details of a contact in the US and your travel plans 

  3. Make a note of the application number so you can check your ESTA status or update your information
  4. Make your ESTA payment. At the time of writing it costs $21 if you do it directly via the ESTA website. You’ll probably pay more if you do it through a travel agent. If you're refused entry to the United States you'll be refunded most of the cost
  5. View your application status. Once your ESTA is approved, it’s valid for two years and you can make multiple trips back to America during this time without having to reapply

Applying with the ESTA app

If you prefer to complete or the check progress of your ESTA application on your phone, you can now download an iOS app or an Android app for mobile devices.

Your ESTA details

You don’t need to print off or take your ESTA information with you when you travel – it will automatically be sent to your carrier.

It’s up to you whether you update your travel information on the ESTA system for future trips.

Make sure you apply for your ESTA in good time before your US trip.

When do I need to apply?

Official ESTA guidance recommends that you apply at least 72 hours before you travel to the US, though your application may be processed instantly.

What if my ESTA application is turned down?

If your request for an ESTA is turned down, then you need to apply for a Non-immigrant Visa. This usually involves booking an appointment at a US embassy and visiting in person – this takes a lot of time, which is why you should book well in advance.

How much does it cost?

At the time of writing, an accepted ESTA application costs $21 (about £17) per person, and must be paid for by credit card. If your application is rejected, you’ll be refunded most of this amount, less a processing charge.

If you're travelling for a big family holiday, the costs can add up quickly. The fee will be charged to your card as US dollars – find out if your credit card provider will charge you to convert your money and budget accordingly.

How long do they last?

An ESTA is valid for two years, or until your passport expires - whichever comes first.

If you received an ESTA for a visit to the US less than two years ago, but renewed your passport afterwards, you'll need to submit a new application.

Can I renew my ESTA?

No – when the ESTA expires, you need to submit a new application.

I've left it last minute and I'm just about to travel – what should I do?

Don't panic – the best thing to do is get onto the official ESTA website right away and apply. Your application may be approved instantly.

If you don't, you may be turned away when you arrived at customs – or not be allowed on your flight.

Ready to start your ESTA application?  

You can apply for an ESTA online. Or, if you still have questions, visit the US Customs and Border Protection FAQs page.  

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