Florida Guide > Travelling
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
The US Department of Homeland Security has announced a new online system to form part of the visa waiver scheme. It is currently available for voluntary participation but will become compulsory on 12th January 2009.
Anyone who would normally use the Green Visa Waiver Form to enter the United States will then be required to complete an online application form prior to boarding a flight to the United States. The application form asks for personal details and asks the same kind of questions that you have to answer on the green form.
The main difference is that you can complete an ESTA application even if you have no current plans to travel to the US. You should either be approved immediately online or you may get an ’ approval pending’ message where your application will be checked and hopefully approved shortly. If you are eligible to visit under the visa waiver you should have no problem getting approval.
Once you have been approved it is valid for up to 2 years or until your passport expires whichever happens first and it can be used for multiple trips to the US. Unfortunately it does not guarantee entry to the US as the final decision on this takes place at the point of entry but it should help to identify any potential problems before you travel and give you time to apply for a visa if necessary.
If your answers to the online questions suggest that you will not be eligible to enter the US on the visa waiver scheme then you will be given information on how to apply for the appropriate visa.
Once the scheme becomes mandatory in January the ESTA approval will be linked to your passport so they will be able to identify that you have completed your application by referencing your passport number. This is a similar system to the one they use for entry to Australia and it has proved very successful there.
At the moment the scheme is free to use so it is well worth applying now even if you are not planning to visit the US in 2009. You will get 2 years to visit and there is no loss if you don’ t happen to go. There have been suggestions that a charge may be applied next year when it becomes compulsory.
One thing to note is that you do not need to have the address of where you are staying to complete the application. You can fill in the initial approval with your own personal details and then later on add any accommodation details before you travel. This fits in well with a villa rental as you will usually be given the full address a few weeks before travelling - so plenty of time to add it to your ESTA application.
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