When planning your travel arrangements online, it is important that you check all the current visa requirements for countries you plan to travel to or even pass through. These requirements are constantly changing with updated security measures. Many countries enforce strict entry regulations and you may be refused boarding at the country of departure, or refused entry upon arrival if your paperwork does not comply. Not a great way to start your holiday!
Most Australians visiting the USA are eligible to be admitted for 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) provided you are visiting for vacation, have a machine readable passport and do not have a criminal record. To confirm whether your passport is machine-readable, you can contact the Australian Passports Information Service on 131232 within Australia. Whether you are staying with family or friends or staying at a hotel, you will need to provide full details of a valid address in the United States when you check in for your flight. A five-digit zip code (post code) is required for all addresses.
Under the program, most visitors to the United States, including those seeking entry under the VWP, are required to have fingerprints scanned by an inkless device and to have a digital photograph taken on arrival. Before clearing immigration on arrival in the United States, you are required to complete a white or green Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94 or Form I-94W): white if you have a visa, green if you are entering under VWP. You need to return the form to an airline or ship representative when departing the United States.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is a new security measure under the VWP. The ESTA system is available on a voluntary basis from 1 August 2008 and is expected to be mandatory from 12 January 2009. To obtain a travel authorisation, each family member travelling is required to complete an ESTA application using the online system. The US government recommends that travellers use the online system no later than three days (72 hours) before departure– applications can be made after that but approval may not be received ahead of travel. The US government recommends you print out and keep with you a copy of your ESTA application response. I suggest you do it as soon as you have planned your travel arrangements, as there will be a huge backlog of applications and a last minute panic!
If your ESTA application is refused, you will need to apply for a visa for travel to the United States. Currently ESTA refusals are less than one half of a per cent. During the transition period from 1 August 2008 -11 January 2009, travellers who have obtained a valid ESTA travel authority will still need to complete the green form I-94W upon arrival in the US and surrender the bottom portion of the form when they leave. When the ESTA system becomes mandatory, passengers wishing to travel to the US will need to have either a valid ESTA travel authority or a valid visa.
The US government advises that each approved ESTA application will be valid for a period of two years, so a visitor may travel to the United States repeatedly within a two-year period without having to apply for another ESTA. At the present time, there is not a fee for ESTA applications. In the same way that a valid visa does not constitute a determination of admissibility, an approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admissibility to the United States at a port of entry. In all cases, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers make admissibility determinations at US ports of entry or pre-clearance facilities. Online applications can be made at the ESTA website. Further information about ESTA can be found on the US Customers and Border Protection site (formerly Department of Homeland Security).
If you have any doubts about whether you are eligible to enter the United States under the VWP, or about visa matters in general, you are strongly advised to contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the United States of America about your specific circumstances, well in advance of travel, including if you plan to transit the United States. Read all the information on the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade Website smartraveller.gov.au .
Stay safe and happy travels!