With the holiday season upon us, Cheapflights.com.au, the Australian site of the international travel online price comparison company, suggests that before visiting the USA it pays to check that you know the new visa rules before flying. Cheapflights also has some useful tips to help smooth your transit through domestic US airports once you are there. Also be sure to print out our “before you fly check list” – this and lots of other travel information can be found on Cheapflights’ Travel Tips (http://www.cheapflights.com.au/travel-tips/).
Under the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP), Australian and New Zealand citizens entering the US by air or sea have to apply online for the new American Department of Homeland Security’s mandatory Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) – this is instead of a paper visa and allows you to stay for up to three months. However, if you want to stay longer, you will still need a Tourist B2 paper visa.
If you are flying to the US via Canada, VWP-entitled travelers crossing into the US are NOT required to have an ESTA if they are crossing by vehicle or ferry. BUT you DO require one if you arrive from Canada by air or cruise ship. Our advice is to get an ESTA anyway.
The ESTA can be obtained by making an online application right up to your flight time but preferably no later than 72 hours before departure. Cheapflights suggest doing it much earlier as an ESTA is valid for two years and it’s free! NB: You must have a machine-readable passport that has a digital photograph printed on the data page or integrated chip with information from the data page.
A word of warning when going online for your ESTA: There are unofficial ESTA look-alike sites or businesses that claim that they’ll complete your ESTA for a fee – often a very steep one! You’ll find all sorts of sites with URLs that look like official US sites, but which are NOT endorsed by the US Government. Travelers should know that there is only one site that is affiliated with the US Government: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. The tip is to look for the dot-gov (.gov) at the end of the address. Only US Government sites can have those. Also: ESTA IS FREE!! If you’re asked to pay, you’re on the wrong site.
If you are traveling to the US from Australia and do not hold a passport from a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) country, you will need to apply for a paper Tourist Visa B2, which can take a while. Check with your local US Embassy’s website for how to apply – you will have to request an appointment for a visa interview because walk-in interviews are not given. The http://www.usembassy.gov/ site provides details of US Embassies around the world.
Commenting, Mo Bulbrook, head of international, said: “We have posted some useful tips from the US Transportation Security Administration, which you can see on Travel Tips In US (http://www.cheapflights.com.au/travel-tips/taking-flights-in-the-united-states/). These will certainly help you to enjoy your holiday without running into avoidable problems at domestic US airports. International visitors to the US should always ensure that they have their passports with them while they are traveling within the US.”
She added: “For those addicted to their mobile phones, be sure to check with your service provider about roaming costs, which can be sky-high! Most modern phones have automatic updates which check for new emails – it’s best to turn these off and to use WiFi connections to check for the vital email. It’s also a good idea to tell your credit or debit card company that you will be using your card abroad and the dates – there’s nothing more frustrating than waiting for authorization or, worse, refusal when buying that must-have item!”