If you’re planning to visit the United States, then you may be in for a surprise. The new mandatory ESTA registration program is taking effect on October 15th.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced this new policy change earlier this month. It was part of an executive order signed by President Trump that established a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal immigrants crossing into the country at ports of entry. Prior to this change, anyone who entered the country without proper documentation would not have been required to register with the government. Now, everyone has to complete it or face having their travel to America denied.
The new rule applies only to people from certain countries and those traveling as tourists or business travelers. This means Canadians, Mexicans, citizens of other nations, students, visitors, refugees, and others are exempt. However, if you’re entering the U.S. via air, sea, or land, then you must register. If you don’t, you will be turned away at the border.
Who needs an ESTA?
The good news is that if you meet the requirements, you can get your ESTA waived. You need to prove that you’ve already visited the U.S. before, or that you’ll have a valid passport and you’ll stay within the borders of the country for less than 90 days. You also need to fill out an application online that proves you’ll return home after your trip, and you must show proof of identity and travel insurance.
You can do all of this through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website. When you arrive at one of the airports or port or customs stations, you’ll receive an electronic code that lets you proceed. If you’re flying, that code will appear on the boarding pass printed for you. If you’re arriving by car, bus, or train, then you’ll receive a paper document that contains the code on it.
This program is free, but there are some exceptions. For example, the cost of international flights is not covered. Also, the price of visas and other services is not included. In addition, you must pay $20 for expedited processing when you apply for the program. Expedited service doesn’t guarantee faster turn-around time, however. You could still wait up to two weeks to get approval if you don’t pay the fee.
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How much does it cost?
There isn’t any charge to enter the U.S. for most people. However, there’s a $14 fee for each person who wants to stay overnight, even if they’re just passing through. A family of four who wants to spend more than three nights must pay an additional $35 fee. The same is true for every person who stays longer than 30 days.
However, if you plan to work in the U.S., you can pay a premium. The fees for a seasonal worker are $94 per week. An H1B temporary worker must pay $140 per week. Those who work year round must pay $163.
In either case, the fee covers a variety of things including visa issuance, fingerprinting, background checks, medical exams, and interviews. It also includes an annual renewal, which costs another $50. This is the fee that you must pay whether you need to renew the authorization or not. The one exception is if you’re under 18 years old and want to travel internationally. Then you won’t need to pay.
What happens now that I’m registered?
Once you complete the paperwork, you should receive an email confirmation along with a digital code. That code will let you enter the country. If you’re traveling by plane, you’ll use the ePassportGate program to check in at the airport. There, staff members will scan the code on your boarding pass and allow you to go forward. They will also ask you to present your passport and provide information about your itinerary.
If you’re driving across the border, you’ll be asked to produce your driver’s license and vehicle registration. They will also look at your passport and verify that it matches your name. Your car will also need to be properly insured. If everything checks out, you will be cleared to cross the border.
If you’re coming from abroad, you’ll need to check in with immigration officials upon arrival. They will ask you some questions to determine what kind of visitor you really are. If you’re visiting friends and relatives, then you’ll be allowed to stay for up to six months. If you’re staying for more than 60 days, then you’ll need to get a tourist visa. If you’re here for business reasons, then you can stay as long as you like. If you’re traveling solo, you’ll have to get a B1/B2 visa. If you’re traveling as a group, then you can get a J visa for 10 people.
At the end of your trip, you’ll need to leave the country. Then, you’ll need to contact the nearest U.S. consulate to arrange for the return of your original documents. Once you do so, you will be asked to pay a fine equal to half of the value of your lost items. You can’t bring anything back from the U.S. that you didn’t take with you. This includes personal belongings such as wallets, phones, cameras, laptops, tablets, and other electronics. Anything else must be taken off the airplane or destroyed. If you fail to comply, you risk being detained while authorities try to return the items to you.