Thursday 15 January 2009 12.31pm
***** WARNING *****
from Martins' money saver on GMTV:
WARNING! You must 'apply' online BEFORE travelling to the USA
The days of filling out a green I-94 piece of paper - commonly thought of as the Visa Waiver form - on a plane for entry into the US have ended. You now need to fill in an online request (called the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation form, or ESTA for short) to enter the States, at least three days before travelling; otherwise you'll be turned away at US immigration.
The application form is available right now on the ESTA website. It's completely free, so beware of other sites implying there's a fee to pay. Sadly, and rather outrageously, you can only apply online; so those without the internet have to go to a library or ask someone with access for help.
Even if you're only considering going to the States at some point in the future, it's worth filling in the application before buying tickets...just on the off chance you're rejected and can't get your flight/hotel money back.
The application lasts two years (or until your passport expires), and only takes five minutes to complete, so after that you're covered in case you forget, plus the three day rule could be a problem for emergency travel. Once the ESTA is out of date you simply reapply.