101 USA Holidays

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    USA visa information

    Mike GerrardBy Donna Dailey and Mike Gerrard, Editors of 101 USA Holidays

    The UK is part of the US Visa Waiver Program, and most British citizens holding British passports may enter the United States for visits of up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. However, if you are arriving by air or sea, you must get ESTA authorisation prior to your journey or you will not be allowed to travel to the USA.

    How ESTA works

    You can apply for the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) through the official ESTA website, operated by US Customs and Border Protection. There is a fee of US $14 for each application, and payment must be made by credit card. Beware of outside agencies charging higher fees for this service.

    ESTA travel authorisation is valid for two years, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. You must then apply for a new ESTA. You can make multiple trips to the US during the period of validity without having to re-apply.

    You must apply for the ESTA at least 72 hours in advance of your travel date. However, it is wise to do this as soon as possible when planning your trip, because if for some reason your application is denied, you will need to obtain a visa.

    After submitting your application online, you should normally receive authorisation to travel almost immediately. Those who cannot apply online themselves may ask a relative, travel agent or other party to make the ESTA application on their behalf.

    Note that the ESTA application is a separate requirement, and is not the same thing as the requirement to provide your airline carrier with details of your passport, country of residence and US accommodation address.

    If you enter the US by land from Canada or Mexico under the Visa Waiver Program, you will have to fill out a paper Form I-94W at the border and pay a processing fee.

    For more information, please visit the ESTA website.

    Passport and visa requirements

    You must hold a passport that is valid for the entire length of your stay in the US. It is a good idea to make sure the expiry date falls well after your intended stay, however, in case of unexpected delays.

    To qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, you must be described as a British Citizen on the photo page of your passport. Others such as British Subjects, and British National (Overseas), will need a visa.

    Passports must be machine readable if issued prior to 26 October 2005. After that date, all passports must contain a digital photograph and, from 26 October 2006, must have integrated chips.

    If you hold a UK Emergency Travel Document, these are not valid for entering the US under the Visa Waiver Program. You will need to apply for a US Visa.

    More information about passports and visas is available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, the US London Embassy website and the US Customs and Border Protection website.

    Upon arrival in the US, you will need to show your passport and ESTA or visa (if required), and have your fingerprints scanned and a digital photograph taken.

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