What is ESTA and do I need to register before travelling to Florida?

Prior to travelling to the USA through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), all non-US residents and non-US visa holders must have pre-approved authorization by registering their details on-line through ESTA.

Travelling to Florida

From 12 January 2009, the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) was enhanced with the inclusion of ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Travelling under the VWP normally meant completing a green coloured form (referred to as 'I-94W') for each person. Unless you have US citizenship or already have a visa which allows entry into the US, then almost certainly you will need to complete ESTA on-line prior to travelling.

The application must be made at least 72 hours in advance, but should be done at the earliest opportunity. If you are considering travelling to the US, but have nothing confirmed, you can still apply for approval. This is beneficial when looking to travel at short notice.

What is required for ESTA?

ESTA is authorisation to travel under the VWP and as such the usual rules apply as to who will qualify. To apply for approval, visitors must complete the questions on the ESTA website (links below), which are very similar to those on the VWP I-94W (e.g. name, date of birth, passport details). Where you require the address of the villa you have booked, please contact the owner. Once you have registered your details, approval is often received immediately, but in some cases can take up to 72 hours. Each submission is given a unique Application Number, which should be noted to check on any pending status. It is also advisable to print out the approval, however it should also be noted that approval under ESTA does not guarantee admission into the US.

Once approved, the application is valid for two years or until the applicant’s passport expires (whichever comes first). Other instances in which approval will cease are: change of name, gender, citizenship or circumstances underlying the applicant’s previous responses to the questions. In these cases, a new application under ESTA must be made. There is a charge of 14 US Dollars levied for each registration. However, beware of some websites that are charging up to 250 US Dollars for completion and submission of these details on your behalf.

You may wish to review the above pages, as these are more comprehensive and provided directly by the US Customs & Border Protection office. These clearly state exactly what is required and what restrictions are in place when looking to travel to Florida and USA.