British visitors can travel to the USA for up to three months without a visa under the US Government’s Visa Waiver Program.
However, you will need to complete an ESTA.
Here’s what you need to know.
The Visa Waiver Program enables eligible citizens or nationals of designated countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa.
Britain is included within this list of designated countries, so if you are a British citizen and planning to stay in the USA for less than 91 days you won’t necessarily need a visa.
You will, however, need to apply for an ESTA.
What is an ESTA?
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that assists the US Department of Homeland Security to determine the eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Once you have completed your ESTA application, you are notified of your eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
How soon should I apply for an ESTA?
You must apply for an ESTA before booking your holiday. This way, you know you have approval to enter the United States before you book your flights or make accommodation reservation.
ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travelling to the United States under the VWP, and in most cases, ESTA provides an almost immediate determination of eligibility for travel under the VWP.
However, the US Department for Homeland Security recommends and encourages Visa Waiver Program travellers to submit ESTA applications through the ESTA website as soon you begin to plan a visit to the USA.
How do I apply for an ESTA?
You can apply for an ESTA online. Visit: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
The Move to E-Passports
From the 1st of April 2016 any international visitors to the USA will need a passport with an integrated chip (E-Passport) in order to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme. You can read more about this change here: https://www.dhs.gov/visa-waiver-program-requirements
British Passports issued from October 2006 already carry this internationally, and you should have a recognisable symbol on the front cover of your passport.
If your passport was issued after October 2006, and you have the recognisable E-Passport symbol on its front cover, then you don’t need to do anything.
However, since the usual US requirement that a passport is valid for travel for six months beyond the holder’s stay in the United States is waived for certain nationalities, including British Citizens, some British travellers may be expecting to travel on British passports without an integrated chip.
Given that British passport must be renewed every ten years, this is only going to affect a small number of people, but please do double check to ensure you can travel.
For avoidance of doubt, you may wish to consider renewing your passport early in order to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme.
Bear in mind that it can take three weeks or longer to renew your passport by post, so if you decide to do this you may need to consider using the Government’s fast-track scheme or making an appointment at your local passport office.
Please bear in mind this advice does not affect your ESTA requirements – these still remain in place.
You can read the US Government advice in full here: www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/esta
We’re happy to offer further advice if you need it. For more information please call to speak with one of our helpful, friendly staff: