Citizens of the UK who wish to travel to the United States are exempt from visa requirements. This is made possible under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) of which the UK is a participant. UK citizens will however need to obtain an approved ESTA (Electronic System Travel Authorization) before they will be allowed to enter the country. In light of the spike in terrorist activities over recent years, the US government saw it fit to set up a pre-screening system for all travelers from Visa Waiver countries. Thus the Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA was borne and became a mandatory component of the Visa Waiver Program on January 12, 2009. The ESTA program is an online, e visa application system that allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to pre-screen all travelers who enjoy exemption from VISA requirements before they board a US bound airplane or ship.
ESTA for Authorization Tourist Trip or Short-Term Business Trip
If you're a national of a qualifying VWP country and will need to transit through the US to another country such as Mexico, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands under the VWP for the purpose of conducting short-term business or for tourism visit, you will need to obtain an ESTA. If you're travelling with a minor, that's a child under 18 years, who is also a citizen of a VWP country, you will need to apply for ESTA for the child.
The application process for ESTA can take up to a few weeks, although the ESTA website recommends that the application be made at least 72 hours before departure. We recommend that you avoid applying in rush, take some time to ensure that you understand the application process, and verify your validity for an ESTA before applying. If your application is denied, you will have to apply for a B-1 Visitor Visa or B-2 Tourist Visa. A free ESTA eligibility test is available on the ESTA website.
The ESTA is a prerequisite for citizens of VWP member countries who wish to travel by air or sea to the United States as a final destination or in transit to another destination. There's no guarantee that you will gain permission to enter the US even when granted a travel authorization. Remember that it is not a visa. The US immigration will conduct checks to ascertain the validity of your travel authorization.
There are four steps to the ESTA application process. You will first need to download the form then fill in the required data and submit the form electronically. The next step is to submit the required payment. You will then receive a confirmation email reflecting the final decision. This will one of three responses: Authorization Approved, Authorization Pending or Travel Not Authorized.
ESTA is valid for entry into the US for two years, but you are only allowed to stay a maximum of ninety days per visit. This 90 days is calculated from the day immigration grants you access and you enter the country.