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Visas and ESTAs: what you need to know

Visa and passport

Among the most important things to have sorted when going on a family holiday outside the EU – along with making sure everyone has their passport – is your visa or ESTA. Like passports, this needs doing well in advance of travelling. Here's the essential info you need to make sure you're prepared.


If you're going to the USA, you'll need an ESTA, which stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. This is a visa-waiver, and is only available to people holding passports from specific countries, including the UK.

Even if you're flying through the USA on a connecting flight, you still need to have one – so don't be caught out.

You can apply for an ESTA online, by inputting your passport details into the website, and paying the fee of $14 per person. Always make sure you're filling out your ESTA request using the official site, so you don't end up paying more.

When completing the online form, you can only pay using MasterCard, Visa, Discover (JCB/Diners Club) and American Express so make sure you use one of these when attempting to pay. You'll be charged a smaller fee of $4 if you're rejected.

If you've been through the USA in the past two years, you probably have a pre-existing ESTA that hasn't expired. Check before you pay for a new one.

Remember – filling in the form doesn't guarantee you entry. And it's worth applying for your ESTA before you book anything else for your hols, just on the off-chance something goes wrong, and then you have a booking you can't recoup your losses on.

If you don't have a British passport, or a passport from another country that participates in the waiver, then you'll need to get a visa.


As Britain is – just about – still part of the EU, it's easy to forget there's a whole world of visas and entry restrictions just outside of Europe's borders. Bear this in mind before you decide to book any hotels or airline tickets.

Visa restrictions vary from country to country, and depending on which passport you have they can be free, or cost up to hundreds of pounds and take months for approval.

Always check the country's official website or embassy for individual restrictions and prepare accordingly. Again, it's worth double checking that you're applying through the official channels, to avoid incurring higher costs and delays.

How will Brexit affect travel?

With so much about Brexit uncertain at the moment, it's impossible to say how exactly UK travellers will be affected. But some changes seem pretty likely.

Your UK passport is, for now, also a European Union passport. On the day the UK leaves the EU that will cease to be the case. Red tape for UK travellers is likely to increase after Brexit: we might no longer be able to use the fast-track lanes at foreign airports and could have to apply online to visit other European countries.

The EU plans to introduce an ESTA-like scheme for non-EU nationals who will have to enter personal data online and could be subjected to finger-printing and having their photograph taken. Like ESTA, there will be a fee.

The upshot? The cost and complexity of travel to European countries will probably increase for UK citizens after Brexit. For now, enjoy the simplicity.