Anyone travelling to the USA from today, 20 January 2010, should be aware that it is now mandatory to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) at least 72 hours before you travel if you are travelling under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).
The application process takes around 15-20 minutes with authorisation generally granted immediately, however, it can take up to 72 hours, so passengers are advised to apply for their ESTA when they book their travel or at least 72 hours prior to travel.
The ESTA replaces the green cards that passengers used to be required to fill in on the plane before landing. ESTA was introduced last year but became compulsory today. Under the new regulations airlines will be unable to accept passengers for travel to the USA unless they hold ESTA approval, or a valid visa or Green Card.
Once approved, the travel authorisation is valid for multiple entries in to the US for two years.
You can apply for an ESTA here https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov – it’s free, well at the moment – a charge may be brought in later in the year.