Frequently Asked Questions About ESTA Visas

While many people refer to them as “ESTA visas,” they are not exactly a visa! It can be a bit confusing as to exactly what an ESTA is simply because some countries don’t have them. The UK, for example, doesn’t offer them but Australia does have a similar program and so you may be a bit familiar with them in principle. But what exactly are they and what should you know about getting yours in order if you plan to travel to the United States? Before getting into some of the most frequently asked questions about ESTA visas, let’s get a bit of background.

A Brief Understanding of the Visa Waiver Program

In order to understand what an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is, it’s important to get a bit of background. This is actually filed under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in the United States wherein certain ‘friendly’ nations are not required to have a travel visa any longer. The ESTA is, as the name implies, a way of registering for travel under the VWP so that the US Department of Homeland Security can track visitors coming into and back out of the United States. Now, let’s get to those Frequently Asked Questions!

Is the UK One of the Participating VWP Countries?

Yes, the UK is one of 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program in the United States. The two countries have extremely strong political ties and, as a result, UK citizens are not generally seen as posing any threat to Homeland Security.

So, Why the ESTA If There Is a Waiver?

Here it gets a bit tricky. Although UK citizens are close allies of the United States, it is not outside the realm of possibility that some citizens may be members of known terrorist groups. These may be UK citizens who’ve applied for citizenship but are natural citizens of countries with widespread terrorist activities. While rare, the US Department of Homeland Security needs to monitor everyone going into and out of their country by any sea or air vessel.

How Can I Register for an ESTA?

You can go directly to the Department of Homeland Security website, but for UK citizens, it is often easier to register through the portal at This portal is specific to the UK and so has information and a list of other FAQs pertinent to the United Kingdom.

When Should I Register for an ESTA Permit?

You must register for an ESTA permit at least 72 hours prior to embarking on your trip to the United States. You can do so through the above-mentioned portal or directly at the DHS government website. It is recommended that you immediately print a copy (or two in case of loss!), so that you can have one