Do I need a Visa to visit the USA?

In short yes. It is called an ESTA which means Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. Unfortunately there are many unscrupulous websites out there that want to part you with your money. An ESTA costs $14.00 per person and that is it. You do not need a travel service or tour operator to arrange getting an ESTA for you. It can be completed online in around 10 minutes. It is a visa waiver system and allows nationals from approved countries to travel to the USA. The questions that used to be filled out on the green form on route to America are now electronic. Each ESTA lasts for two years. There will be an email reminder a month before expiry sent by the authorities. It is not renewable and you will have to apply for a brand new ESTA. If your passport expires during the two period then you will have to apply for a new ESTA.

Click the link below for the official website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

Official ESTA Application

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This is the returning page as of 21 September. I have noticed that the questions are updated each time I have applied for my ESTA and they need more and more information about you.

If your first night address changes after you have applied or you are travelling to different city at a different point during the life of the ESTA you can update that information by logging in again and amending the details. At this time you are not required to provide a change of arrival address but if you feel happier doing this then there is the facility to do so.

First time use of an ESTA on arrival in America non US citizens have to line up and wait to be interviewed by Homeland Security and it can be a lengthy process depending on the number of flights that have arrived around the same time.

The officer will ask you some very basic questions such as what are you plans whilst in the United States, how much money have you brought with you, how long are you staying, where are you staying and how many in your party. You will then be photographed and have your finger prints taken. Your passport and customs form will be stamped and then you proceed to get your luggage. Hand the custom form to the agents as you exit the arrivals hall.

When you are travelling on an existing ESTA and returning to America there are now computer terminals that take your image and finger prints and ask some similar questions that were asked when applying for the ESTA and will print a voucher which you have to line up and hand into the officers. This also doubles as the customs form. They ask fewer questions and the line is often moving at a faster pace. The number of these terminals will vary per airport.

There is a Global Entry system now that speeds all of these processes up but there is a cost for the service. As of 21 September it will cost $175 per person. It allows you to be PRE TSA (Transportation Security Administration) approved and lasts for 5 years. The terminals and arrival lines for this service are often empty.

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