web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

ESTA a year on

It is now over a year after ESTA (the US electronic visa waiver system) has started and worth a post on how it has developed.

Despite the initial promises of saving travellers time by replacing the green I94-W visa waiver entry form, for most the ESTA application is needed as well as an I94-W form. They are progressing slowly - a number of flights have a trial for not completing the I94-W form.

I was on one of the trial flights the other day. The immigration officer was not expecting a form and didn't even ask to confirm the flight number I was on. Perhaps this was because immigration at that time was quiet with no recent arrivals of other flights? I received a card "I-94W is going paperless" which explains to any check in or gate agent who expects to find a green stub from the I-94W that I legitimately don't have one.

Hopefully it will be paperless for everyone soon.

When ESTA was introduced, the legislation provided for future introduction of a fee for cost recovery. So far, ESTA is still free (unless you go to one of the many fake sites to register). However, a $10 tourism promotion fee will be charged later this year (date not yet confirmed).

When the fee is charged, effectively ESTA will have transitioned to become a visa, albeit lower cost than regular US visas.


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