10 February 2009
U.S. reminds Australian travellers ESTA is free
After discovering that several websites in Australia are using the free ESTA service as a way to make money, the U.S. consulate in Sydney is reminding travellers to the U.S. that the new service is free, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
The ESTA is a new electronic system for authorising travel to the United States for all nationals from participating countries in America's visa waiver programme (VWP). Because nationals from the VWP do not need a visa for America to enter for purposes of tourism, the American Government devised a system to get the details of VWP nationals for security purposes.
It means that citizens from VWP countries need to apply online at least 72 hours prior to travelling to America so that their details can be stored on the ESTA system. Travellers will be denied entry to America if the ESTA has not approved their travel. The ESTA is a free service and once the details of a person are on the system, they do not have to reapply for another ESTA for two years.
The US consulate in Sydney has uncovered a few websites that are using the ESTA free service to build a business, with some charging $US50 ($78) for an application guide, and $US99.95 for a compact-disc version sent by courier, both of which are completely unnecessary.
"No traveller should have to pay for any sort of form to be filled out," a spokesperson for the US Consulate said.
"We would encourage people to steer clear of these websites because, in many cases, they are not legitimate. And even if they provide other services, the ESTA is free."
The American government's website allows for travellers speaking 21 different languages and travel agents can complete the form on travellers' behalf.
The Australian Government provides a similar instant travel authorisation called the ETA. The ETA is attached electronically to one's passport, and is for nationals from countries participating in Australia's visa waiver programme. The ETA is an Australian holiday visa that allows travellers to travel Australia for tourism purposes for up to three months.
The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with emigrating to Australia.