A Short Guide To Visa-Free Travel For UK Citizens: ESTA

Published on 2019-06-25



According to the International Trade Administration, citizens of the United Kingdom make around 5 million visits to the United States on an annual basis. If you’re from the UK and hoping to make such a trip, there’s good news: with a reasonably positive political relationship between the two nations, it’s relatively easy for citizens of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to have their travel plans authorized quickly.

In contrast to many other countries, the US generally does not require UK citizens to complete rigorous tourist visa application processes, but you will need prior authorization to enter the country with your British passport.

US Visa Options for UK Citizens

Unless you hold a Permanent Resident Card, you’ll generally be required to have your travel plans authorized through the “Visa Waiver Program” (VWP), which enables visa-free travel. This can be done by obtaining an “Electronic System for Travel Authorization,” which is commonly referred to as ESTA.

The ESTA simplifies the travel process by waiving the necessity for a formal tourist visa, but it still requires an application process. In short, it is a manner of pre-screening British travelers prior to arrival without dictating the need for a traditional visa appointment.

The ESTA dictates a maximum stay of 90 days, making it a viable option for those who wish to make a brief entry into the US. Most commonly, it is used for travel or pleasure purposes, though in some cases it is also appropriate for short business trips, medical proceedings, or periods of brief study.

In all cases, those wishing to stay longer than the allotted 90 days or receive work rights in the US will be required to seek out other visa options.

ESTA Eligibility Requirements

To qualify to enter the US through the ESTA, you must be a British citizen who holds an ePassport. ePassports are generally recognizable by this internationally recognised symbol which appears on the physical passport’s cover.

While most British citizens will qualify for the ESTA, there are certain exemptions. In some cases, those who have travelled to Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen since March 2011 will be denied entry. Those who are a dual national of Iran, Sudan, or Syria may also be determined ineligible of the Visa Waiver Programme.

In addition to meeting all background requirements, those completing an ESTA application will also be required to show proof of their ability to support themselves financially for the duration of the holiday—regardless of whether you are staying in hotels, hostels, or with family or a friend. Generally speaking, this means including current bank statements listing your account balance with your ESTA application. Lastly, those applying for the ESTA will be required to show proof of either an onward ticket or evidence that the flight purchased is roundtrip.

Visa Waiver Costs

At $14 (or up to $90 depending on what service you use), the ESTA is incredibly affordable in comparison to many other visa processing charges. While exact conversion rates depend on both nation’s fluctuating economies, this generally ends up being around £10 or £11.

It should be noted, however, that the $14-90 processing charge is a per-person fee; though you will be given the option to process and pay for multiple applicants simultaneously, families with multiple members will be required to pay the standard $14-90 for each individual planning to travel.

Payment will be prompted at the end of the ESTA application and may be fulfilled with either a debit card, credit card or PayPal. Accepted credit cards include MasterCard, VISA, American Express, and Discover. In some cases, third party fees (such as those pertaining to conversion rates) may be applicable.

If your ESTA application is approved and you receive permission to enter the country, you will be charged an additional $10.00 authorization charge via your initial payment method. In the case that your application is denied, you will incur no further fees.

The Application Process

To obtain the ESTA, you must complete the online pre-registration form found on the ESTA website or the official site. After applying, you will receive a response to your application. Responses will either dictate “Authorization Approved,” “Authorization Pending,” or “Travel Not Authorized.”

If you meet the base requirements, the ESTA online pre-registration process is incredibly straightforward and quick. Applications generally take around 20 minutes to complete and are often processed in as little as 30 minutes.

Those who receive approval are granted permission to travel to the United States under the VWP. Those who receive a pending status will need to check back in 72 hours, and those who have their application denied will be provided with resources from the US Department of State in regard to possible alternate options.

Despite the speedy processing time, the US Customs and Border Patrol still asks UK citizens travelling to the US to complete the pre-registration process at least 72 full hours (or three days) before the scheduled flight departs.

In the majority of cases, applications are processed quickly and with little to no hangups. Should the application process take longer than anticipated, you may check its status by entering your application number on the ESTA website.

Because the US is the authority responsible for enforcing all entry rules, always double-check any third-party information regarding visas and application processes with the country’s official travel authorities. A few top resources include the official ESTA webpage, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consulate Affairs, and the US Department of Homeland Security. During your application process, if you have any questions regarding US travel visas that are not covered online through these sources, consider contacting the US embassy or consulate nearest to you.

Lastly, in addition to ensuring that you’ve received authorization to enter America, you may also want to check with your airline. Because various companies have differing travel requirements, consulting with your airline helps ensure that you meet all necessary standards, so you’ll be able to board the plane and enter the country with ease.


Learn about the ESTA application   |   Learn about updating your ESTA   |   Learn about checking your ESTA