31 Jan

Travelling to America

One of President Trump’s first acts was to place a 90 day ban on citizens from seven countries entering the USA. The ban came in with no warning and caused some fairly severe issues for many airlines around the world having to deal with the reality of customers potentially being refused entry and having to be flown home.

Although Britain is not one of the seven countries, the ban still had an impact here with many UK residents potentially affected. After some initial confusion, the White House clarified that the ban does not apply to anyone travelling on a UK passport, though dual nationals may face increased security checks on arrival in the USA.

This whole episode gives us an opportunity to generally discuss US entry requirements. If you are a UK citizen, you should be eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program by applying online for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). The online application process is fairly straightforward, costs $14 and the ESTA is valid for two years. However, there will be people who will have their ESTA application rejected, and who will then need to apply in person for a visa. If this happens, you will have to make an appointment and travel to London, Edinburgh or Belfast for your interview. You won’t get an appointment that quickly; a month’s wait isn’t unusual, especially during busy travel periods.

The official recommendation is to get your ESTA at least 72 hours before you travel, but you may be one of the unlucky ones who needs to get a visa. To be on the safe side you might want to consider applying for your ESTA before you book your flights or holiday. The risk can be that you book your trip, have your ESTA application rejected and then find that you won’t get your visa before you are due to travel. This can and does happen and it is not covered by travel insurance.

There are many sites offering to help with ESTA applications for a fee. You can avoid any fees by using the official US Embassy site here: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

On arrival in the USA everyone will have to go through Homeland Security, their equivalent of Passport Control. Now a word of warning. Homeland Security officials are known for their fairly stern manner. So bear this in mind, just stick to factual responses, avoid political comments and definitely no jokes.