The ESTA allows UK citizens to travel to the USA under the ‘Visa Waiver Programme’, eliminating the need to obtain a visa for trips to the USA for periods of 90 days or less. Nevertheless, there are a few passport requirements to bear in mind before applying for ESTA online.
First and foremost, it is essential that your passport is valid and does not expire during the validity of your ESTA (which is two years). As soon as your passport expires, so does your ESTA. Providing your passport is valid, there are a few other conditions to be aware of before applying for ESTA online.
If your passport was issued after 2006, it is most likely an e-Passport, which means that it has an electronic chip incorporated into the document itself, which contains biometric information about the traveller as well as a digital photo. For any passports issued after this date that do not contain an electronic chip, you are not eligible for ESTA, and must consequently go down the traditional visa route.
If your passport was issued before October 26, 2005, you may still travel with an ESTA if the passport features a machine-readable zone or, if issued between this date and October 25, 2006, if it features a digital photograph. To know whether the photograph on your passport is digital, check to see whether it is printed onto the page itself, or whether it is glued or laminated in. To know whether your passport has a machine readable zone, look for two lines of letters, numbers and chevrons (<<<) at the bottom of the page detailing your personal information. If your passport has this, then it is machine-readable.
Bear in mind, standard passport validity in the UK for adults is ten years. Thus, any passport issued before 2005 is likely to have expired, and you must therefore order a new passport before applying for ESTA online.
If for any reason your passport, issued after October 26, 2006, is not an e-Passport, and does not contain a chip, you are unable to use this passport under the visa waiver programme. Though you can still apply for a tourist visa, this process is far longer (and more expensive) than applying for ESTA online, and therefore you may find it more beneficial to apply for a new passport that features the electronic chip.
Please note also that, when entering the United States by air or sea, you should have proof of your onward travel/return trip within the 90-day validity of your journey.
Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.