Do your foreign friends and relatives a favor if they’re planning a visit to the United States. Remind them, even if they don’t need a visa to enter the U.S., that they still need to fill out an online form (and pay a $14 fee) before they depart for the U.S.
Called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), it’s been mandatory since 2009. It’s part of the ever-tighter U.S. security requirements, allowing the Department of Homeland Security to vet travelers against “watch” lists. (Canadian and Mexican visitors, however, are exempt and do not need to fill out the online form.)
Travel agents and airlines may not remind travelers that they need to fill out the form before heading to the U.S., as a young relative of mine (with a British passport) recently found to her chagrin when she was flying from Europe to Seattle. No one had told her of the requirement; I reminded her and, fortunately, she had her laptop and was able to do the form in transit at the Amsterdam airport. Visitors who haven’t submitted the form could be denied entry to the U.S.
The travel authorization form, administered by the Department of Homeland Security, applies to citizens of countries that participate in what’s called the Visa Waiver Program – mostly high-income, developed countries whose citizens are not required to have a visa for entering the U.S. for a stay of up to 90 days. But they must submit the travel-authorization form.
Visa-waiver countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece. Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal. Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.