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Using your ESTA once you’ve ordered it

The ESTA is the golden ticket that allows citizens of countries belonging to the ‘Visa Waiver Programme’ to travel to the USA for tourism or business purposes without the need for a visa (and that includes the UK!).

In times gone by, hopeful travellers would have had to request an interview with the US embassy to be considered for a visa, which unsurprisingly entailed endless red tape and expenses. The ESTA, on the other hand, is both ordered and delivered online. The process takes minutes, and the authorisation is confirmed within 24 hours. 

When your ESTA is confirmed you are sent an email with the details, but not everybody knows what needs to be done at this stage. The simple answer is: nothing. To ease any doubt or worry, the best thing to do is print out your ESTA confirmation at this point, and take it with you on your journey to the USA. This being said, it is not a requirement to show a printed copy of your ESTA authorisation to border officials in the USA.

The clue is in the title; ESTA stands for ‘Electronic System for Travel Authorisation’, which means that the whole process, from start to finish, is electronic. Essentially, your ESTA becomes automatically attached to you; you have a unique number assigned to your specific ESTA, and the details come up automatically when your passport is checked. Nevertheless, some particular airlines may ask you to bring a printed copy of your ESTA with you in order to board the plane. This isn’t particularly common, but you should check with your airline before setting off.

Essentially, there is no harm in printing your authorisation and carrying it with you when travelling. It’s certainly a good idea to keep a note of your individual application number at least, because this is what traces the ESTA back to you specifically.

If at any point you forget your unique ESTA application number, there’s no need to worry. It’s perfectly simple to retrieve your details by providing your name, date of birth, passport number and passport issuing country. Remember, your authorisation is only valid for two years following confirmation of your approval. This cannot be renewed automatically, but rather you will have to submit a new ESTA application following its expiration.

So, all in all, once you have taken care of ordering your ESTA online there’s nothing to worry about. Take a note of your application number, and print out the email if you’d like to have a physical copy, but most importantly, security officials in the USA will not ask to see it, as it will come up automatically for them.

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.