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US Customs Regulation

Changes to US Visa Waiver Program

There have been some changes to passport and visa requirements for British Citizens entering the USA.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a new online system that is part of the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) All nationals or citizens of VWP countries including UK Citizens who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP will need to receive an electronic travel authorisation prior to boarding a US-bound airplane. It does not affect US citizens travelling overseas.

ESTA came into full effect on 12 January 2009. ESTA applications should be submitted as soon as plans for travel to the US are made and at least 72 hours prior to departure. Registration will allow multiple entries and be valid for up to two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. As future trips are planned, or if an applicant’s destination addresses or itineraries change after their authorisation has been approved, they may easily update that information through the ESTA website.

Should travel authorisation be denied, travellers will be required to obtain a non-immigrant visa at a US Embassy or Consulate before travelling.

Applications must be made online by visiting the ESTA website Additional information and factsheets can be downloaded at CBP.gov/esta

Warning !!!

Do not fall people thinking about travelling to the U.S. in 2009, not to fall foul of scams set up to cash in on changes to entry requirements.

The ESTA is completely free of charge and should make travel to the U.S. easier.  However online scams have already sprung up to trick travellers into paying to receive their ESTA authorisation. Some websites are trying to charge up to $250 a time as a ‘processing fee’. Or will try to sell you a downloadable guide for $50 or more, when advice is free on the US government web site.

Both of these services are scams and totally unnecessary. If you have a question on US immigration and are thinking of staying in a villa we would be pleased to offer advice.

Since October 2004 all visitors to the USA on the visa waiver programme (VWP) will require a machine readable passport (MRP). This means no change for British passport holders with a RED passport, with the personal details printed by the machine below the photograph. All currect UK passports are MRP. If your UK passport was issued abroad please check it is a MRP before you travel.

Children must have their own passport. Children will not be able to enter the USA under the VWP if they are included on a parents passport, even if their's is a MRP. if children are on a parents passport you must obtain a MR passport for each child.

These new requirements are in addition to the following existing restrictions under the VWP;

  1. Hold a full UK passport endorsed British Citizen.
  2. The passport must be valid at least 6 months beyond your return date.
  3. Must be travelling on business, pleasure or in transit and staying less than 90 days in the US.
  4. Hold a return ticket or e-ticket receipt.
  5. Complete an I-94W form, which will be handed to you at check in or on the aircraft to present to US customs.
  6. Must not have a criminal record.

If you are unsure please obtain advice from the UK passport office on 0870 521 0410 or at Direct.gov

In November 2004 the US imigration department instigated a policy of fingerprinting and taking photo ID on entry into the United States. The majority of this is done whilst the imigration officer is processing your visa waver form, so this takes a only a few moments longer. But can add half an hour or so to your time going through imigration. Don't worry the fingerprinting is done by scanning one finger on each hand in a light box, so you will not press your fingers onto paper with black ink.




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