Do You Need a US Visa for Your Trip?

When an individual or group plans a trip to the US there is often conflicting and confusing information given as to the US visa requirements. Some people will state confidently that you do not require a visa; others will assert with equal equanimity that you do. What is the answer?

You can usually identify if you will require a visa or not by answering just two simple questions:

1. What am I going to the US for?
2. How long do I intend to stay?

The truth is, unless you are intending to emigrate to America, plan to open a business or work in the country, want to move to the US to be with family or stay there longer than 90 days, then you will not need a US visa. The reason for this is that you are likely to be one of the many thousands of UK tourists who head off to America each year on holiday, many of whom can apply for temporary admittance to the country via the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The VWP is a program adopted by the US government and managed by the Department of Homeland Security. It allows nationals from many countries in the EU, including the UK and others across the World, to travel to the US without a visa provided that:

They travel on a valid, in-date, machine-readable passport that contains an electronic chip.
They are visiting the US for business, pleasure or travel purposes.
They are not disqualified from obtaining a US Visa under American law.

What is important to note is that on January 20th this year, new legislation pertaining to travel to the US became part of the constitution and now all visitors to the US travelling as part of the VWP are required to complete an online ESTA application.

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation and as the name suggests, its role is to ensure that those who wish to travel to America are authorised to do so well in advance of their day of departure. The system has been developed for two reasons; firstly, to increase the level of security afforded to those travelling into the country; secondly, to allow passengers the chance to resolve any potential issues with their visit to the US before they travel.

To apply for an ESTA with the American Visa Bureau, applicants should begin by completing their online ESTA application. This takes approximately 15 minutes to complete, with most applications being processed instantly (although the process may take up to 72 hours).

Checking your ESTA status is simple, and can be done by logging into the American Visa Bureau site with just your email address and password via the ESTA status page. As the Visa Bureau website is verified as THAWT secured (the highest level of Internet security available), you can be assured that your details will be secure.

All individuals who travel to the US, including children, require a valid ESTA before they leave and the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the website, recommends that all visitors to the US submit their application at least 72 hours before they intend to travel.

However, it is also strongly suggested that applications are made as early as possible to ensure the maximum amount of time to process the application and resolve any issues that may arise from it.

In addition, another bonus for the traveller is that even though they can have an ESTA accepted many months in advance, they do not need to know the exact details of their visit at the time of application. An ESTA can be updated with information, such as a place of residence while in the US or flight details, at a later date once the applicant has become notified of them.

Updating your information and checking your ESTA status is an easy process, simply log in with just your email address and password via the American Visa Bureau ESTA status page. As the website is verified as THAWT secured, the highest level of Internet security available, you can be assured that your details will be secure.

Many travellers, who have been to America before and filled in an I-94W form en route, will be familiar with the ESTA form. The online ESTA form contains much of the same information as the old paper form. However, if you are unsure about any aspect of your application there are a few excellent websites that can advise and guide you on how to complete your form online.

To conclude, while you may not require an approved US visa for your trip to America as long as you meet the criteria to visit under the terms of the VWP, it is certainly true that any individual planning a trip to the US will require an approved ESTA.