As a British citizen with an ePassport (including a chip) we qualify to enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) to visit the States for up to 90 days. An ESTA is also required for passengers just transiting through the United States, which can catch some travellers out.
In order to check in for your flight to the USA, your passport, Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and flight tickets all need to match. So it’s important to process your travel arrangements and ESTA to exactly match your full name as on your passport. At check in, the airline will match your ticket to the ESTA, if there is a mis-match, you will not be allowed to travel and ultimately this may lead to the cancellation of your flight & holiday.
To avoid any stress and financial loss, we would suggest applying for your ESTA or visa before booking your travel, or at least before you pay your holiday balance. You will be asked to state the intended date of travel and length of stay on the application. Once approved, your ESTA is valid for 48 months from the date of issue, as long as you don’t renew your passport during this time, or subsequently revoked.
Cuba & other destinations where you are not eligible for an ESTA
If you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since 1 January 2021 you cannot apply for an ESTA, you will need to apply for a US Visa.
If you have travelled to or have been in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after 1 March 2011 you cannot apply for an ESTA, you will need to apply for a US Visa.
Please note that a visa application can take several months to complete as appointments are very limited.
If in doubt about your personal circumstances please contact the U.S. Embassy ( U.S. Customs and Border Protection for advice.
How to apply for an ESTA
The official website of Homeland Security for ESTA applications is https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ and you can apply as an individual or group.
Alternatively to the website, there is also an ESTA Mobile App:
An ESTA application is processed online and can take up to 72 hours (3 days) to be processed. If your ESTA application is denied, you will have to apply for a visitor visa at a US embassy, appointments can take weeks or even months to arrange.
Your name on the ESTA should exactly match your passport. There isn’t a separate field to enter a middle name. Family name = surname. First (Given) Name = first and middle names.
There are a couple of questions that can be awkward for some travellers to answer, regarding health and lawfulness, we highlight the eligibility questions and the help offered on the official website as to how to answer.
Do you have a physical or mental disorder?
It sounds like a worrying question for travellers taking regular medication or with limited mobility, however they are trying to establish if you have any contagious diseases or can cause a danger to yourself or others.
Q1. Do you have a physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict; or do you currently have any of the following diseases (cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fevers, severe acute respiratory illnesses capable of transmission to others and likely to cause mortality)
According to https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/application.html it states:
“Answer “Yes” to this question if:
You currently have a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder that may pose or has posed a threat to your property, safety or welfare or that of others; or
You had a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder that has posed a threat to your property, safety or welfare or that of others and the behavior is likely to recur or lead to other harmful behavior. “
“Answer “No” if:
You currently have no physical or mental disorders; or
You have or had a physical or mental disorder without associated behavior that may pose or has posed a threat to your property, safety or welfare of that of others; or
You currently have a physical or mental disorder with associated behavior, but that behavior has not posed, does not currently pose nor will pose a threat to your property, safety or welfare or that of others; or You had a physical or mental disorder with associated behavior that posed a threat to your property, safety or welfare or that of others, but that behavior is unlikely to recur.”
“Under United States law persons may not be admissible if they have been determined to be a drug abuser or drug addict.”
Travellers with mental illness can travel on an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program provided that their condition does not render them a danger to themselves or others. It’s advisable to carry a letter from your doctor to this effect to facilitate entry into the United States.
Prescription medications should be in their original containers with the doctor’s prescription printed on the container. It is advised that you travel with no more than personal use quantities, a rule of thumb is no more than a 90 day supply. If your medications or devices are not in their original containers, you must have a copy of your prescription with you or a letter from your doctor. A valid prescription or doctors note is required on all medication entering the U.S.
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?
Hopefully you can answer no to these questions:
Q2. Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?
Q3. Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?
Question two can apply to traffic violations, such as drunk driving.
A single DUI (driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol) conviction is not grounds to deny entry into the U.S. However, multiple DUI convictions or a DUI conviction in combination with other misdemeanour offences can make a person inadmissible and require a waiver prior to entering the United States.
A crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) may be grounds to deny entry to the U.S. More info on what constitutes CIMT: CBP Info.
According to https://uk.usembassy.gov/visas/visa-waiver-program/additional-requirements/ it states:
“We do not recommend that travelers who have been arrested, even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction, have a criminal record, certain serious communicable illness, have been refused admission into, or have been deported from, the United States, or have previously overstayed under the terms of the Visa Waiver Program, attempt to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program. If you have a minor traffic offense which did not result in an arrest and/or conviction you may travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program, provided you are otherwise qualified. If you are not sure whether or not you are eligible to travel visa free, the only way to resolve this question is to apply for a visa.”
There’s conflicting opinion of whether you should be truthful or not when completing this question, the risk is up to you. If you answer no, when in fact you have been arrested or convicted and it comes to light during the application, your ESTA will be denied and its unlikely you will then get a visa. If you answer yes, it’s almost certain your application will be denied and you will need an appointment for a tourist visa interview at the embassy, wasting the $14 application fee.
Previous travel restrictions
If you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after the 1st March 2011, you will be required to apply for a visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
What can I do my ESTA was denied?
If you have answered yes to any of the eligibility questions and your registration has been denied, you are required to apply for a visa. If you believe you answered a question incorrectly and as a result your application was denied, you should contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
If you answered yes to the mental health question in error call +1 202 325 8000 local time EST 08:30 – 17: Mon to Fri to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection and ask them to reset the form for you.
What can I do if my ESTA was revoked?
An ESTA can be revoked at any time after approval was granted. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reserves the right of admissibility for any ESTA applicant traveling under the Visa Waiver Program. They run continuous immigration and security checks to ensure their data is up to date.
If you receive an email from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), stating that your ESTA application status has changed status it will normally indicate your ESTA has been revoked or state “Travel Not Authorized”, which means you are no longer permitted to travel under the Visa Waiver Program.
If an ESTA is denied or revoked the next step is usually to go down the visa process.
How can I check if my ESTA is still valid?
You can check your ESTA status here: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/individualStatusLookup you will need to enter your passport number, date of birth plus your Application Number, OR the Country of Citizenship, Passport Issue Date and Passport Expiry Date.
How to apply for a B-2 Visitor Visa
Applicants aged 14 – 79 are required to apply for a visa in person with the U.S. Embassy or consulate through a pre-arranged interview.
The official website for Uk is here https://uk.usembassy.gov/visas/tourism-visitor/
I-94 Visitor Status
International travellers visiting the United States can apply for or retrieve their I-94 admission number/record (which is proof of legal visitor status) as well as retrieve a limited travel history of their U.S. arrivals and departures. Apply here: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
For more official advice for British citizens visit: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/usa