Which official documents are required for the USA?

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Which official documents are required for the USA?

The ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, for entering the USA

To enable citizens of certain countries to enter the United States without needing a visa, a Visa Waiver Program was created.

The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) has the objective of determining if a traveller is deemed to be acceptable on American territory.

As the United Kingdom is on the country members list, British travellers should complete a travel authorization application which is exclusively through the Internet. Obtaining travel authorization by completing the ESTA application form has been obligatory since 12 January 2009. Implemented by the American government, the system is in response to problems linked to public security.

The ESTA is valid for a period of two years or until the expiry of the passport if its expiry date is for less than two years. It should be noted that all travellers from a country on the VWP member list are not automatically eligible for the Program. You can find the online application form by clicking here


The required conditions to entering American territory

There are five conditions to be met for citizens of the Program member countries in order to enter the United States. 

  • The first is the submission of a valid electronic or biometric passport. Valid optically read passports issued before the 26 October 2005 are applicable.
  • The second, the granting of the ESTA authorization which is notified online to the applicant.
  • The third, holding a return air ticket or cruise ship ticket for sea passengers.
  • The fourth condition; a stay of no longer than 90 days in the United States.
  • The fifth and final condition is the submission of proof of solvability such as traveller’s cheques or credit cards.


For certain categories of travellers the visa remains irreplaceable. The American Embassy website gives more details on this subject. Concerning ESTA authorisation, it is strongly recommended to print the application approval with the note ‘authorization approved’ to facilitate entry formalities. Noting down the ESTA number for any possible future visits to the United States may also be useful.


The steps for an online authorization application

Obtaining an online travel authorization involves several steps. 

  • The first is the completion of the online form that requires careful attention, particularly for the obligatory fields.
  • The second is the submission of the application.
  • The third is the receipt of a notice of approval.
  • The fourth is the payment of a fixed amount fee as the use of the ESTA system is not free of charge.


The status of the application is visible at all times. The majority of applications are almost immediately approved. The processing of information can however take 72 hours. It is therefore up to the applicant to take all necessary precautions to avoid any inconvenience. In the situation whereby the submission website is inaccessible due to maintenance or saturation, the only alternative is to resubmit the application later on.


Do not forget your passport!

As previously stated, to enter the United States it is absolutely necessary that you possess either an ESTA authorisation or a visa. However to obtain either of these documents you will also need to possess a valid passport in your name. A passport is also required for children and even for a simple transit or stopover in the USA.

If you do not possess a passport then you cannot obtain an ESTA and you cannot visit the USA. In fact, the ESTA electronic travel authorisation system automatically links your authorisation to your passport number. It is upon presenting your passport to the travel company at the time of departure that they will verify that you have obtained this authorisation. Without this passport it will be impossible for you to travel to the United States, or even any country outside the European Union.

Therefore, if you do not yet possess a passport and you wish to obtain one or renew one that is expired then you will need to apply to the passport office to do so. This may take between one to three months. 


Obtaining a visa as an official travel document for entering the USA:

If you are not able to obtain an ESTA authorisation due to a longer visit or because you do not fulfil the required conditions as stipulated above then you have the possibility of applying for a traditional visa.

This procedure should be completed through the American Embassy in your home country by completing an application that will need to be submitted along with certain personal documents. It does of course take far longer than an ESTA which should be taken into account.