ESTA permit to cost USA travellers £9 Visa waiver form will no longer be free

09 August 2010

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Travellers looking to visit the United States of America in the near future have been urged to apply for authorisation to enter the country as soon as possible, in order to save money.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is the web-based approvals system that replaced the old green I-94W form - a Visa waiver document tourists used to fill in during their journey to the US. The purpose of the green form, and now the ESTA, is to officially authorise holidaymakers’ temporary residency in America.

Made compulsory for all Brits travelling to the USA in January 2009, ESTA has been free to obtain up until now. However, from 8 September 2010 anyone using the American government’s ESTA website will have to pay $14 (around £9) for travel authorisation. Without ESTA, holidaymakers will be debarred from entering the country.

ESTA: get yours now

ESTA lasts for two years or until your passport expires (whichever is sooner) – so if you’re heading to America on holiday in the not-too-distant future, it makes sense to organise your travel authorisation as soon as possible and save yourself the $14 fee.

Which? Holiday’s head of research Rochelle Turner says: ‘When it comes to costing up a holiday, many of us forget about the extra costs such as visas, inoculations and travel insurance that we need just to get away. These can really add up when travelling, so if you plan on visiting the US before the beginning of September 2012, it would be worth getting your free ESTA now.’

Even if you have no firm plans to travel to the USA, it is arguably worth applying for a free ESTA now. If you don’t use it before it expires you’ll have lost nothing – but if you find yourself heading to America in a few months’ time and haven't organised your ESTA before 8 September, you’ll be forced to pay for it.

It’s vital to be aware that, in any case, ESTA must be completed online at least 72 hours before you depart for the United States. If you don’t obtain ESTA in advance of travelling, you may find you are unable to board your outbound flight for the US or are sent back to the UK at your own expense if you reach your destination.

Unofficial ESTA websites

If you’re looking to organise ESTA, simply using Google to find the right website could mean you end up out of pocket. This is because rip-off websites that charge consumers up to £123 for the ESTA have been set up by scammers, and it isn’t always easy to tell the official US government site apart from them.

Rochelle Turner says: ‘Make sure that you get your ESTA from the official US source and not from one of the many dodgy sites that charge for this (currently) free service.’

For more money saving holiday tips, check out the Which? guide to getting great value travel money and our review of the market’s most competitive travel insurance policies.

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