Frequently Asked Questions

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What documents are required for entry into the U.S.?

Following a review of security procedures at all airports in the USA, the US Immigration Department has updated its policy on passengers entering the United States using the current Visa Waiver Programme, of which the UK is a participant. All British passport holders will only be permitted to enter the United States if they hold a machine readable passport. The majority of 'new style' red British passports are machine readable, although those issued outside the UK or those not in the new style may not be. Should your passport not be machine readable it will be necessary to either obtain a new passport or to obtain a US visa. As of 12 January 2009 travellers who are seeking to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program are now subject to enhanced security requirements. All eligible travellers who wish to travel under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for authorization before departure. From 08 September 2010 there will be a $14 fee per person to apply for a travel authorisation. Please pre-register online for travel authorisation (ESTA) at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov For more information please visit www.usembassy.org.uk.


What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program allows foreign nationals from certain countries to travel to the United States for business or pleasure, for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Travelers admitted under the Visa Waiver Program must agree to waive their rights to review or appeal, as explained in the Waiver of Rights section of the Application screen.

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Who qualifies to use the Visa Waiver Programme?

To qualify for the US Visa Waiver programme you must NOT: be suffering from any communicable disease, physical or mental disorder or be a drug abuser or addict; have been arrested or convicted for any offence or crime. This includes spent convictions or an arrest not resulting in a conviction; have ever been involved in espionage or sabotage, terrorist activities, genocide or been involved in any way with Nazi Germany or its allies between 1933 and 1945; seeking work in the US, have been excluded or deported from the US, been previously removed from the US or attempted to procure a visa or entry into the US by fraud or misrepresentation; been detained, retained or withheld custody of a child from a US citizen granted custody of the child; been denied a US Via or entry into the US or had a US visa cancelled; have asserted immunity from prosecution. Anyone travelling after October 26, 2006 and who is travelling on a passport issued after that date will be required to obtain a US Visa.

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What is a machine readable passport?

A machine readable passport has the holder's personal details e.g. name, date of birth, nationality and passport number contained in two lines of text at the base of the photo page. This text may be read by machine. Almost all passports are now machine readable.


Are all the 'new style' passports machine readable?

No. Although most of the 'new style' British passports issued in the UK since 1988 will be machine readable, those issued outside the UK may not be.


How do I know if I have a machine readable passport?

There is a machine readable strip at the bottom of the data page. This means that the passport details can be read by a machine at Passport Control. If you are in doubt as to whether your passport is machine readable, you should contact the British Passport Office (for details see overleaf) if a British passport holder, or your embassy in the United Kingdom for further information if you are not.


If I do not have a machine-readable passport, will I need to obtain a US visa?

You must either obtain a new machine readable passport and use the Visa Waiver Program, or apply for a US visa using your current passport. If you decide to obtain a new passport, we strongly recommend that you review the information on visa free travel to ensure that you are indeed eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.


I have just got married and my passport is still in my maiden name - is this ok?

You cannot travel to the USA unless your passport and ticket show the same name. The USA will NOT ACCEPT a marriage certificate with your passport in your maiden name whilst your ticket shows your married name.


What should I do if I cannot, or choose not to apply for a machine readable passport?

You will need to obtain a US entry visa. Same day visa applications are not possible. In the UK: Visa applicants are required to obtain visa application form DS-156 either by down loading from the US embassy website (www.usembassy.org.uk), calling 09042 450 100 (calls cost £1.20/min from BT landlines) or sending a stamped, self-addressed A4 sized envelope with 28p postage to: United States Visa Forms, P.O. Box 499 Leeds, LS3 1XU. Complete supplemental visa application form DS-157 (see above). One set of forms is required for each adult, child and infant requiring a US visa. You should be aware that once you have completed the application forms, you will be asked to attend an interview at the US Embassy. This process will therefore take a minimum of 6-8 weeks. After the interview the passport and visa will be posted back to the applicant within 5 working days. The application fee for a non immigrant visa is $131.


I have a machine-readable passport that includes my child. Will my child be eligible to travel visa-free?

No. In order for your child to travel on the Visa Waiver Programme your child will require his or her own machine-readable passport.


What ID do I need to travel to the USA?

For all UK Citizens you will require a machine readable passport with at least 6 months validity beyond your date of return. Alongside a confirmed ESTA (if travelling on the Visa Waiver programme) and completion of APIS information. For further guidance please visit our Passport FAQ section


My child is on my passport. I was advised that this was valid for travel until my child reaches 16, or the passport expires but with the new US regulations do I need a new passport for my child?

Yes. You should obtain a new passport for your child. As machine readable passports typically have bio data for only one traveller in the machine readable zone, children will therefore require their own individual passports in order to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.


Why might I need a visa?

There are reasons why a British traveller will need a visa. These include one or more of the following: (Note: This is not a comprehensive list. If you are unsure, or if you think that your situation falls into any of the following categories, you should contact the US Embassy about whether you need to apply for a visa you must do this well in advance of any plans to travel to the US.) The personal information page of your passport does not describe you as a "British Citizen", but instead says "British Subject", "British National (Overseas)", "British Overseas Territories Citizen", "British Dependent Territories Citizen", "British Protected Person" or "British Overseas Citizen"; you intend to stay longer than 90 days; you have a passport that is not machine readable; you intend to travel to the US for a reason other than business, pleasure or transit; you have been arrested, even if not convicted; you have a criminal record; you have a serious, communicable disease (including HIV); you are HIV Positive; you have been refused entry to the US on a previous occasion; you have been deported from the US; you have previously overstayed the 90 days permitted under the Visa Waiver Programme (i.e. travel without a visa); you are a child included on your parent's passport. In all of these cases, you need to apply for a visa, or seek further information from the US Embassy Visa Information Service on 09042 450 100 (calls cost £1.20/min) or: www.usembassy.org.uk


How much does a new passport cost?

An adult's new passport currently costs from £77.50 and a child's new passport currently costs from £49. For further information please visit www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/passports.


What other useful sources of further Visa Information are there?

For the latest information with regards to passports and US Visa requirements, we suggest you visit the US Embassy website at www.usembassy.org.uk or the UK Passport Service website at www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/passports. For other residents of the EU & EEA, please check with your local American Embassy for Visa and Passport information.


Will the introduction of finger scanning cause delays at U.S airports?

The process adds minimal time to the entry procedure - on average 15 seconds.


What is a biometric passport?

A biometric passport contains an electronic microchip that holds information on the passport holder. The US requires at least a facial image to be included. The UK is carrying out tests to include fingerprints and eye recognition data.


APIS Information

Advance Passenger Information (API) is information about passengers required by the US government prior to travel. It was originally introduced by the US authorities to speed up immigration procedures.

We strongly advise you supply API before you arrive at the airport. This will minimise disruption at the airport check in area. Guests should be able to complete API on their airlines website prior to departure.

The required information consists of:

• Full name (last name, first name, middle names if applicable)
• Gender
• Date of Birth
• Nationality
• Country of residence
• Travel document type (normally passport)
• Travel document number (expiry date and country of issue for passport)
• Address of the first night spent in the U.S.†

†Not required for U.S. nationals, Legal Permanent Residents, or Alien Residents of the U.S. entering the U.S.