We have booked flights to the USA for Christmas. I'm getting the forms today to apply for passports (ours ran out a couple of years ago), but i've heard a couple of horror stories from friends-of-friends that the new visa requirement can take upwards of eight months.
Does that sound even remotely possible? I thought applying for a passport ten months in advance would be plenty of time but now I'm wondering if I should pay for fast-track to allow extra time for the visa application.
What nationality are you OP? Many countries' citizens don't need a visa to get into the USA - just a visa waiver that you fill out on the plane. You also have to go online and file an ESTA at least 72 hours before you travel.
You can apply for your passports to be renewed; that process should take around 3 or so weeks.
Think friends of friends have totally got it wrong; if you are UK citizens, have never been arrested or charged with any offence and are going there for a holiday you only need to apply online on the US government's official website for the ESTA (one for each person travelling). DO not use any other wesbite other than the official US government one as there are plenty of people online that will scam you for doing this. The ESTA costs $14 US per application and is valid for 2 years. Would apply for this once the passports have been renewed. ESTA approval if granted is pretty much instant.
The ESTA for each passenger is used instead of having to fill out the visa waiver forms on the aircraft. The only form now usually handed out on the aircraft or at check in is the white customs form (one per family is needed).
I just renewed the DCs' passports, using the normal service, and they were back in less than two weeks. It's a quiet time of year for the passport service. ESTA is also usually really quick, so unless you have particular circumstances that are more complicated you should be absolutely fine.
I think (from my reading of the passport forms recently) that as long as you have had a British passport before, and can send the expired one in with your application, then it counts as a renewal. Applying for a first passport is more hassle and I think they interview people now (not children, I presume).
Do you also need to apply for a new US passport for your DD? That may take longer since you are not in the US. I think the rules are that if you are a US citizen with dual nationality, you have to use the US passport to enter and leave the US.
One tip for when you are applying for your ESTA visa waiver: make sure you use the official site here rather than googling and clicking on any of the first few results, which are companies charging you an extra fee for doing something it is very simple to do yourself.
Thanks exexpat I will double check the forms before I send a brand new application off, that will definitely be easier! I didn't know that.
DD and DH will get their US passports through the military, they have their own system for it and I think it's pretty straightforward. We'll carry both of DD's passports with us - we had an interesting moment once on the Canadian border when DD's uk passport (which states "Georgia" as birthplace) was questioned on the basis that they didn't know whether it was Georgia-the-state or Georgia-the-country!
The forms for new passports and renewals are the same, you just tick a different box, and don't have to provide quite as much documentation. For my DCs, I just had to send in their old passports plus new photos, which I got a neighbour to endorse ("this is a true likeness of..."). I think for adult renewals you don't have to get photos endorsed unless for some reason you're unrecognisable from your old photo. There's a helpline to call if you're not sure.