Every year millions of people travel from the UK to the US for tourism or business trips. In 2017, 4.5 million visitors were recorded as visiting the United States from the United Kingdom. Since then, the US Department of Homeland Security changed the requirements for visa-free travel for UK citizens, so it is worth checking for updates before you plan a trip to the US.
People going on holiday to US or travelling there for business from UK must apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) to get visa-exempt travel permission. This has been in place since 2010 as a way to improve border security.
However, what has changed is that they now ask that you apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before you are due to fly. Previously, many holidaymakers applied for their ESTA as late as when they got to the airport. Whilst many applications do take just minutes to get approved, the DHS have issued a warning that real-time approvals are no longer available and anyone applying at the airport without a previously approved ESTA could face being denied to board the plane.
If you are planning a trip to the US in the near future, make sure that you leave sample time to submit your ESTA application. You must also have a passport that is valid for six months beyond the intended period of stay. It is also recommended that you keep copies of your travel documentation.
There are a large number of prohibited items that you cannot take into the US, including many foods such as meats, fruits and vegetables. If you are thinking about taking any food items to the US with you, make sure that you check the Prohibited and Restricted Items page of the US Customs and Border Protection website.
Rules around travelling with electronic equipment have been made stricter, and at one point laptops were banned from being in the cabin on flights entering US from certain countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The ban was since lifted but laptops must have power to them when going through security in UK and US so that they can be fully checked.
3D scanning using biometric screening has been introduced to try to speed up the security checks, whilst still ensuring that a high level of security is maintained.
Whilst there have been a number of changes for UK citizens to consider when travelling to the US, the process of applying for an ESTA is very straightforward, and takes around ten minutes to complete. An ESTA is valid for two years and within that period, you are permitted to travel to the US multiple times with the same ESTA. This is based on the provision that your passport is still valid, as when you renew your passport, you also need to apply for a new ESTA, the authorization does not transfer automatically onto your new passport.