Jetting off to the States? Read this first

By Martin Lewis, February 5, 2009

Here is a warning for anyone who is planning to go to America.

If you have bought yourself a cheap flight to the US this year, watch out. It is no longer a case of simply filling out the form when you get on the plane.

Now, in advance, you need to fill out an online Electronic System for Travel Authorisation form (ESTA). If you don’t, you are likely to be sent straight back home by the United States immigration department.

The good news is that the form is completely free to fill out and you can do it at But don’t search for it on Google, as there are many companies that come higher up on the search that are trying to leech on the back of the new system and charge people for filling it in. There is no need to hand over any cash whatsoever.

However, rather outrageously, you can only fill out this form online; so those without internet access will need to ask a friend to do it for them or go to a library to download it.

For anyone considering going to the States in the next couple of years, or if you have elderly relatives there you urgently need to visit, then I would advise that you fill in the form now.

The application lasts for two years — or until your passport expires — and shouldn’t take you more than five minutes to complete.

Plus it can take up to three days to get a response, so having one pre-done means you’re ahead of the game.

Last updated: 3:18pm, February 5 2009