Ruth Emery
By Ruth Emery
Finance Journalist
Updated 04 June 2024
|Read time: 3 mins

What you need to know about applying for an ESTA

Got a trip to the States coming up? Whether it’s for business, pleasure, or even if you’re just passing through, you’ll need to make sure you fill in and pay for an ESTA.

An ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is part of the USA’s visa waiver program, which lets visitors stay for 90 days or less. Most people from the UK will need to get one in advance of their trip, regardless of whether they arrive by boat or plane. 

We explain how to apply for an ESTA, how much an ESTA costs, how long it lasts, and whether you need to print your ESTA.

Who needs an ESTA?

Most UK citizens visiting the USA will need an ESTA. For example, you’ll need one if: 

 

Your trip is for a maximum of 90 days and is for business or pleasure

You don’t already have a visa for travelling to the USA

You’re arriving by plane, boat or cruise ship

You’re stopping briefly in the USA to catch a connecting flight or boat

 

Note that you don’t need an ESTA if you’re driving into the country from Mexico or Canada. Those who are going to the USA to work or for longer than 90 days won’t be eligible for an ESTA and will need to apply for a visa instead.

How do I apply for an ESTA?

It’s a good idea to apply for an ESTA before you book your holiday or business trip, just in case it’s rejected or you forget nearer the time of the journey.

You apply via the US Department of Homeland Security’s ESTA web page. You’ll be asked for details like your home address, passport number and expiry date. You can add or amend the address where you're staying in the States at a later time.

You can either apply for an ESTA for one person or a group of two or more people. Note that the application must be done online. Those without web access can ask someone else to help.

Don’t forget to buy some US dollars for your trip too – you can get a great rate and pay no commission with John Lewis Bureau de Change or online.

How long does it take to get an ESTA?

In terms of how long it takes to get an ESTA, once you’ve submitted your ESTA application, you may be told instantly whether it’s been accepted or rejected. In other cases, you can check the status afterwards, as a decision can take up to 72 hours.

Make sure once you’ve pressed “submit” on the application that you keep a note of your reference number somewhere safe, so you can check or amend the application if needed.

How much is an ESTA?

The cost of an ESTA is $21 if you apply directly on the official website. Beware of copycat sites, which may charge an additional fee. Your airline may also offer to apply for an ESTA for you, but this will likely incur an extra fee too.

The cost was previously $14 but went up to $21 in May 2022. So, a family of four going on holiday to Florida would pay $84 for their ESTAs. Bear in mind that everyone needs an ESTA regardless of age, even babies.

Do I need to print my ESTA?

Yes, we’d recommend you print it out before your trip. While you don’t need to show it at Border Protection when you arrive on US soil, some airlines may require the printout when you check in.

It’s also handy to have it for your records and for future trips.

How long does an ESTA last for?

Once your ESTA is approved, it’s valid for two years or until your passport expires, whichever is sooner.

During this time, you can make multiple trips back to America without having to apply again.

What happens if my application is declined?

If your application is rejected, you should apply for a non-immigrant visa instead. This usually involves booking an appointment at a US Embassy and visiting in person. 

You’ll be charged a $4 admin fee for the rejected application.

Travel money made easy

It’s always useful to have some local currency when jetting off abroad. For great rates and no commission, pop to one of the Bureau de Change in our John Lewis & Partners shops around the UK, or order online for click-and-collect or home delivery.

When you return from your holiday, you can always sell your leftover travel money back to us at any of our Bureau de Change locations.

Exchange rates in our shops may vary from those offered online.

 

This article is for promotional or information purposes only. You must not rely on it as advice. Please contact a financial adviser if you need advice before you buy a financial product or service.

Recommended guides

We’ve put together a checklist for travelling to help you keep track of what you need to pack.

We answer “how much money can I take abroad?” as well as rules around bringing cash into the UK.

By planning ahead, you can reduce the charges and get a great deal on your holiday money.

John Lewis Finance and John Lewis & Partners Bureau de Change are both trading names of John Lewis plc. Registered office: 1 Drummond Gate, Pimlico, London SW1V 2QQ. Registered in England (Registered Company Number 233462). John Lewis plc introduce the panel of carefully chosen providers in Bureau de Change products and services, whom each hold the appropriate licences with the Financial Conduct Authority and HMRC.

Foreign Currency online from both John Lewis Finance and John Lewis & Partners is provided by First Rate Exchange Services Limited registration number 04287490 (Money Service Business licence number MLR-64068), whose registered office is at Great West House, Great West Road, Brentford, West London, TW8 9DF England.

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