ESTA, which stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is an automated system created by the United States government to determine the eligibility of visitors from countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program to enter America.
The Visa Waiver Program currently covers around 40 countries including the United Kingdom.
It is important to note that, on its own, ESTA does not guarantee that a visitor will be allowed to enter the United States – that can only be authorised by US Customs & Border Protection – but, without one, you will not be able to check-in for any flight to the US.
An ESTA can be applied for online at any time before travel but, to avoid any nasty shocks, it is recommended that you do so before committing to any travel plans that include visiting the US. If you leave it to the last moment and, for any reason, are turned down, you will need to apply to your nearest US Consulate for a visa, a process which may take longer than you have spare.
To apply for an ESTA, which has a small fee, please visit the following official site. Please note there are several companies / websites that offer to ‘arrange’ the ESTA on your behalf for a fee, often as high as £60 – £70. These are a complete waste of time and money and should be avoided.
Well, if your holiday involves flying via the United States (and most holidays to Belize & Guatemala from the UK do) then, even though you are theoretically in transit, you still need to clear US Immigration – hence the need for an ESTA.
You will note that we have not referred to travel to Cuba in the last paragraph. That is because, due to the ongoing trade embargo, it is still not possible to fly to Cuba via the USA.
Please note also that ESTA is nothing to do with API, or Advanced Passenger Information. With API, due to another US law, any airline that flies over American airspace must gather (generally before tickets can be issued) certain information from passengers; this will usually be full name, date of birth, nationality, passport number and expiry date.
As even direct flights from the UK to Cuba & Mexico travel through US airspace, all travellers heading on holiday to Cuba, Guatemala & Mexico will need to provide API details to their airline