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USA: How to apply for an ESTA visa waiver

Don’t get ripped off by websites set up to add an extra $100 to the simple online process of buying your ESTA visa waiver!

My friend told me that she’d read this post AFTER she’d paid $170 per ESTA for her and her husband. If she’d seen this post she would have just paid the US government $14. Grrrrr.

What is an ESTA Visa Waiver?

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

Who needs an ESTA?

If you haven’t travelled to the US since 2010, you will need to apply for an online ETSA Visa Waiver. The good news is, it’s easy peasy!

US customsIf you’re from a Visa waiver country like New Zealand, Australia, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and loads more (click here to see all the countries accepted), you no longer have forms to complete on the plane. But you do need to have been pre-approved to enter the United States by filing a form online before you travel.

Note: BEFORE you travel.

Tip: do not be fooled by the “agencies” out there who have websites that look like the official US government website. It should cost US$14 – AND NO MORE! (Sadly my dad paid $70 for his).

Jump onto this link to the official ESTA website (it ends in .gov/esta so you know it’s the real one) and follow the easy steps. Once accepted (which happens pretty much instantly) your visa waiver is valid for 2 years, then you must repeat the cycle.

If you are declined you won’t be able to board your outbound flight 🙁


Read my post on how long passports need to be valid for travel to about 30 countries here >>>

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!