Lonely Planet Writer

The ESTA service has one important change for those travelling to the US

If you plan to holiday in the US, you need to be aware that the US Department of Homeland Security has made changes to the way it grants permission for travellers to enter the country. Those seeking to come in need a valid ESTA – Electronic System for Travel Authorisation – and the DHS has advised travellers that real-time approvals are no longer available.

Travellers must apply for the ESTA 72 hours in advance. Image: Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Up to now, even though they are meant to be approved 72 hours in advance, ESTAs have been granted almost instantly, even to passengers who turn up at the airport without the permit. However, the process has changed and travellers are now required to apply for ESTA no later than 72 hours before departure. “Real-time approvals will no longer be available and arriving at the airport without a previously approved ESTA will likely result in being denied boarding,” says the DHS, adding that a valid ESTA does not guarantee admission to the US.

The US border force has warned that ESTAs will no longer be granted instantly. Image: Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

Those entering the US will be inspected by a Customs and Border Protection officer at a port of entry, and a decision will be made there as to whether the passenger should be admitted. Travellers flying from or within the US over Christmas and the New Year have also been advised that they may experience more checks and additional screening of their bags. It is estimated that 41 million passengers will travel through US security screening checkpoints over the holiday period.

The US Department of Homeland Security has made changes to ESTA. Image: quavondo

The ESTA grants visitors travel to the US for up to 90 days, but the document itself is valid for up to two years across multiple trips. The application takes about 20 minutes to complete, and further information is available here.