New passport rules for travelling to the USA
A new US visa waiver rule means that if Brits are travelling to the USA they must have a biometric passport (ePassport) in order to use the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) scheme.
The new rule came into effect on 1st April 2016 but many travellers are being caught out by the change which means they are being turned away at the airport and losing their holiday.
What is the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP)?
The Visa Waiver Programme allows most British Citizen passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days for the purposes of tourism, certain types of business visits and to pass through.
Travellers who want to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Programme must hold an ePassport. The symbol on the front of the passport looks like this:
Travellers planning on going to the US and whose passport does not show the internationally recognised symbol shown above must apply for a new one. It can take a few weeks to receive a new passport so they need to apply as soon as they can. Find out how to change a passport here.
What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) scheme?
An ESTA is an automated system which determines the eligibility of a traveller to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme. Upon completion of an ESTA application, a traveller is notified of his or her eligibility to travel to the United States under the VWP. There is a fee to apply for an ESTA but it is valid for 2 years or until the current passport expires, whichever comes first.
Those travelling under the Visa Waiver Programme arriving by air or sea must provide their details to the ESTA scheme at least 72 hours before travel.
What if the traveller doesn’t have an ePassport or hasn’t applied for an ESTA?
If a traveller is going to the US and doesn’t have an ePassport or has one and hasn’t applied for an ESTA, they will be refused entry. They could potentially lose their holiday and may not be entitled to a refund. As the onus is on the traveller to ensure they have the correct documentation when travelling, their travel insurance will more than likely not cover this sort of claim.