British nationals visiting the United States must complete a new online form three days in advance of travel starting from next month.
The current United States visa process (if you are given a security warning message, try https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) is set to change for UK citizens and will be replaced by the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) form. The old I-94 form, which was completed by passengers en route to the US, will be substituted with the ESTA from 12 January 2009. This will need to be completed 72 hours before travel.
Unofficial websites charging consumers
But consumers should be wary of websites that charge money for information relating to the ESTA. These ‘information provider’ websites, such as www.esta.us, may look official and can easily be confused for US governmental websites. The difference is, however, these sites charge money for ESTA guides and services. So, be aware, as they often appear at the top of internet search engines, despite not being affiliated to the US government in any way.
Don’t pay for ESTA service
On one of these sites an online guide for completing the ESTA form can cost $49.95 (£33 approx), or alarmingly, ‘premium processing services’ – where a ‘travel specialist’ processes your ESTA application armed with a copy of your passport – can cost $249.95 (£167 approx).
Which? Holiday could not find any credentials for these ‘travel specialists’ and strongly warns against freely giving out personal details or copies of travel documents.The US Homeland Security states on its website that there are ‘no benefits to using websites that charge money for information relating to ESTA.’
Which? Holiday Head of Research, Rochelle Turner, said: ‘Consumers should take care not to pay considerable sums of money for something they do not need. There are websites out there that are completely unrelated and unaffiliated to US government agencies and which charge money for information that is free. The ESTA process itself is free and comprehensively explained by the US government on its website which should be consumers’ first port of call.’