Visitors to United States must complete ESTAFears many could be turned away so far unfounded

16 January 2009

Airport sign directing travellers to the terminal.

Concerns that many holidaymakers to the United States could fall foul of the new US entry rules are so far unfounded according to the Foriegn & Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The new US entry requirements, the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) that was introduced in August 2008, became mandatory on the 12th of January, 2009. This raised concerns from the FCO that scores of passengers could be prevented from entering the US, some even unaware that the ESTA existed. However, a spokesperson from the FCO told Which? Holiday that "no major problems with UK nationals and the new entry requirements have been reported".

New entry system (ESTA)

The ESTA is a new requirement from the United States Government for visitors from Visa Waiver Programme countries, entering by air or sea, to fill in their details online. This has replaced the old I94W form issued en route to the US. Visitor details must now be entered electronically three days in advance of travel, though in most instances the approval or rejection of the online application is given within a few seconds of completion. 

Even if the introduction of the new rules has made relatively few ripples with holidaymakers so far, uncertainty lingers, and as the summer holiday season looms, the impacts ESTA will have remains to be seen. Critics also point to the many computer-illiterate visitors who might experience problems with the new rules. Passengers are encouraged to always check the online FCO travel advice pages before making travel plans, even if visiting a country they have been to many times before.

Which? Holiday last month warned against websites unaffiliated to the US government that sell online guides on completing the ESTA, essentially charging money for free information.

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