Especially for friends who end up doing convoluted journeys to do point of entry to US outside the US, and because we travel so much and yet hadn't need anything about this before (although now I too have an i-visa it doesn't apply - this is ONLY for green form visa waiver travel):
- ESTA is the online version of the green form you usually fill in on the plane and get stamped into your passport at immigration
- you can do ESTA now but you still have to do the form too
- from January 12 2009 - you will have to do ESTA instead of the form
- you have to do ESTA 72 hours before you travel, you can do it earlier than that if you want
-with ESTA will you know before you fly if you're going to be able to enter the US (although customs & border protection can still say no, as they can now, but that's going to be for Mr Apple Smuggler and the Chinese woman trying to bring in the duck she calls 'dinner')
-ESTA will let you fill out a form once and have it apply to all visits for the next two years (unless your passport expires, when you'd have to do it again)
-if you have a visa, you don't use ESTA
ELECTRONIC SYSTEM FOR TRAVEL AUTHORIZATION (ESTA) FOR VWP TRAVELLERS TO THE USA The US Dept. of Homeland Security has announced the implementation of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which will eventually replace the paper-based procedure of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) nationals completing a written I-94W form.
The purpose of ESTA is to determine, almost immediately in many cases, if an individual is eligible for VWP travel. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel and, once approved, will be valid for up to two years or until the applicant's passport expires, whichever comes first. Authorizations will be valid for multiple entries into the US. In order to facilitate the process, it will be recommended to submit the application as soon as the applicant begins planning US bound travel and not less than 72 hours prior to travel. ESTA will however accommodate last minute and emergency travellers.
From August 1, 2008, voluntary applications will be accepted through the ESTA website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/. Initially, the website will only be operational in English but additional languages will be available later. Until ESTA is mandatory, VWP travelers will still have to complete an I-94W form en-route to the US, for presentation at a US port of entry.
It is anticipated that the implementation of mandatory ESTA approval will commence on January 12, 2009. Once ESTA is mandatory, all VWP travellers will be required to obtain ESTA approval prior to boarding.
Accompanied and unaccompanied children, regardless of age, will also be required to obtain ESTA approval.
In the event that an ESTA applicant is denied authorization to enter the US under the VWP, they will be referred to the US Dept. of State travel section for information on how to apply for a visa to travel to the US.
Whilst ESTA approval authorizes travel to the US, it does not guarantee admissibility; this will be determined by a US Customs and Border Protect (CBP) officer at ports of entry or pre-clearance facilities.
The following are eligible to enter the US under the VWP: Nationals of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland (Rep. of) Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and holders of British passports endorsed British Citizen .