Forget the logical metric system, let’s make up our own American system. You Brits drive on the left side, ok, we’ll drive on the right then. Thanks for letting us come and visit the UK and Europe visa free and without hassle at your borders. You can come visit us visa free too but you’ll have to fill out this piece of bureaucratic bull crap first. And did I mention you also have to pay for it?
America has always got to be different.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the USA. I was born and raised in in New York, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Part of me loves the fact that America is constantly striving to define herself as unique. It’s why New York is as great a city as it is.
But sometimes, America’s insistence on being different and ‘the best’ can lead to some serious misunderstandings and troubling paperwork for visiting foreigners.
It’s something that seriously drives me nuts every time US customs gives my Swedish girlfriend a problem when she visits.
Although visiting Swedes, Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, & most EU citizens are technically listed on the Visa Waiver Program, the USA still requires everyone to fill out an ESTA application / Electronic System for Travel Authorization form. In other words, even though you don’t need to apply for a visa, you do need to apply for and also pay for an ESTA.
So what’s the difference between a regular Visa and an ESTA?
To help ensure that you don’t encounter trouble on arrival at land borders or at airport immigration, below is everything you need to know about the Visa Waiver Program, the ESTA form, and how to get in and out of the USA without being sent home or detained.
Who Needs An ESTA?
First things first, you need to determine whether you need an ESTA or proper Visa to visit the USA.
If you are a citizen of a country not listed on the United State’s Visa Waiver Program, then you require a proper Visa and will not require an ESTA.
But If you are a citizen of a country listed on the Visa Waiver Program, then you must complete an ESTA before your visit to the United States.
Even if you’re just transiting through Miami on your way to Brazil, you still need to fill out a form. And even if you have children as young as a few months, you’ll have to fill out a form and pay a fee for them as well.
Why Do You Need An ESTA?
The official explanation direct from the US Customs & Border Protection is this, “The 9/11 Act amended Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, requiring that the Department of Homeland Security implement an electronic travel authorization system and other measures to enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program. ESTA adds another layer of security that allows the Department of Homeland Security to determine, in advance of travel, whether an individual is eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program and whether such travel poses a law enforcement or security risk.”
In Other Words, former president Bush just wants to make sure you’re not a terrorist.
Does ESTA Ensure Admittance To The USA?
Neither a completed ESTA nor being on the Visa Waiver Program guarantees that you will be admitted to the United States. You simply have pre-approval to enter the country.
So even after filling out all that and paying the fee, you still might be detained or sent home.
Get It Done Right & Don’t Worry About It Later
Can’t be bothered to figure out more paper work? Have enough things to worry about before your trip?
If you’re like me and can’t stand bureaucracy, there are, fortunately, reliable organizations that are experienced with ensuring that your ESTA is accepted, where you can simply submit your information and let them take care of the rest. Check out Estas.net for more info.
Don’t Want To Pay For An Esta?
I don’t blame you. Why should Americans enter the UK for free and without any hassle, while the rest of us have to navigate yet another piece of paper work and pay to enter the US.
Even as a US citizen, it still makes me frustrated. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it, at least not in the near future, but to bite Bush’s bullet and pay for it.