Thursday, January 28, 2010

Planning a trip to the U.S.? The Scoop on ESTA

If you are a citizen of a visa waiver program country, and planning to visit the U.S. anytime soon (maybe to attend IAAPA Attractions Expo?), you may want to take note:

Earlier this week, USA Today published an article about new requirements for travelers from visa waiver program countries coming into the United States. As of January 20, 2010, these travelers must now complete an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application before traveling or they risk not being able to board their departing flight. U.S. citizens returning from overseas or citizens of visa waiver program countries traveling on a valid U.S. visa do not need to complete this form.

ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel and are usually valid for up to two years (or until your passport expires, if that is within two years). The authorizations are valid for multiple entries into the United States, and the application is currently free, so there’s no real downside to completing a form as soon as you begin making your travel plans—or even now, if you’re planning to attend any spring committee meetings in the U.S. or IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando this November. Even if you are unsure of your travel plans, you can apply and just leave the travel information section blank.

The travel industry is urging the U.S. government and international airports to establish computer terminals where U.S.-bound travelers can complete their ESTA forms, but currently you must apply in advance – before you arrive at the airport. If you do not have an approved application, you can be prohibited from boarding your flight.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has created a web page where travelers can find information, answers to questions, and links to the online ESTA application.

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