From 12 January 2009, it will be compulsory for all international travellers entering or transiting the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to apply for pre-travel authorisation via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). This online form will replace the green visa waiver form (I-94W) which is currently completed whilst en-route to the US.
This modern system is already operational and enhances the security of the VWP which allows visitors from participating countries to travel to the US for business or pleasure for 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa.
Travellers should visit the US Department of Homeland Security website and complete an application online providing biographical and eligibility information. In most cases a response will be received within seconds determining whether travel to the USA has been authorised.
In some instances travellers will need to wait up to 72 hours for authorisation so it is recommended that the ESTA process is completed at least 72 hours before departure. If the application is not authorised then a visa may be requested through the US Embassy.
An approved travel authorisation is valid for two years for multiple entries into the US. A new application is required if a new passport is obtained within the two year period or if the answers to any of the Yes/No questions on the ESTA form change.
If applicants’ destination addresses or itineraries should change after their authorisation has been approved, they may update that information through the ESTA website.
Points to note: Travellers must also check-in with a valid passport and all other documentation required to satisfy entry requirements. Travellers who already hold a current and valid US visa are not required to apply for travel authorisation through ESTA.
For more information please refer to the ESTA site directly at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/