The effects of COVID-19 have been far reaching, causing unprecedented damage throughout the world. With Hospitality and Travel being some of the worst hit industries during the raging pandemic, traveling for leisure has definitely become a low priority for most people in the UK, resulting in months of dormancy and grounded flights in airports all around the world.

However, as the dust from the pandemic starts to settle, the flight and travel industries are certainly getting ready to return to a welcome, albeit small, sense of normalcy – borders are reopening, quarantine requirements are being re-thought and travel bubbles are being structured in order to effectively allow travelers to visit friends or family in other countries.

USA entry restrictions

If you are a U.K resident planning to enter the U.S, note that the United States Government has limited entry into the country by visitors from Europe and the U.K temporarily in order to halt the spread of COVID-19. This ban extends to travellers from the Schengen member states as well, and these measures have been in place since 11 March 2020. Presently, the restrictions remain active, with no further updates announced by the U.S government.

When can I travel to the U.S ?

Travel analysts have speculated that the travel restrictions in the U.S may remain through autumn and into early 20201. There is no date set for lifting of the travel ban, but you are able to check on the ESTA VISA website for updates and information related to travel to the U.S.

What is an ESTA?

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, which is part of the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). The VWP is a U.S government initiative that allows citizens of countries like the UK, countries in the EU and two dozen other countries around the world access into the United States without the need for an additional visa. Upon successful application of the ESTA, it stays active for 2 years – and you are permitted to stay in the U.S in those 2 years, but with a 90-day limit per visit each time.

What qualifies for an ESTA?

Here are the travel reasons that are considered qualifying reasons for ESTA:

  1. Tourism and vacations
  2. Visiting friends or relatives
  3. Medical tourism
  4. Participation in social events, musicals, sports or contests without remuneration
  5. Consultation with business associates
  6. Attending a scientific professional or business convention or conference
  7. Attending short-term professional training
  8. In-person contract negotiation

And here are the travel reasons that are not considered qualifying reasons for ESTA:

  1. Studying for qualified credits
  2. Employment
  3. Foreign press, journalism or mass media
  4. Permanent residence in the U.S

All travelers from a valid participating VWP country that hold a qualifying reason for ESTA travel must have:

  • A valid ESTA prior to boarding the flight
  • A round-trip ticket indicating a return filth
  • Travel documents that show related travel activity an approved air or sea carrier
  • A passport from a participating VWP country that is valid for at least 6 months before your planned departure from the U.S back to your home country.

Can I and should I apply for my ESTA now?

Yes you can, and you should. Because the ESTA application process may take longer once the travel ban is lifted and more people start putting in their applications, the current travel ban situation means that you can receive an approval on your application much quicker. An approved ESTA is valid for 2 years or until the expiration of your passport, whichever comes first. Once you have your ESTA, you are permitted visa-free travel to the U.S, which will surely come in handy once the ban is lifted and you start booking your flights to America.

I already have an ESTA, can I book a flight to the U.S now?

Travellers who attempt to enter the U.S during the travel ban face a high risk of having their ESTA cancelled without any refunds. The travel ban is a United States Proclamation, and is thus backed by federal law – we suggest that any reservations for air travel to the U.S in 2020 be cancelled, and rebooked only after the travel ban has been lifted.

Can I get a refund on a cancelled ESTA?

Cancelation of your ESTA application is non-refundable if the cancellation was a result of the travel ban Proclamation. Our advice is for travelers who have been affected by the Proclamation to postpone their flights and travel plans to the United States until after the ban has been lifted.

Are there any exceptions to the travel restrictions?

Yes, there are exceptions to the travel ban. This includes legitimate permanent residents, foreigners married to U.S citizens, as well as U.S Armed Forces personnel and their direct family members. Emergency travel authorisation will be granted on a case-by-case basis for some travellers. You may contact ESTA VISA on the live chat function for any enquiries regarding emergency authorisation.

I own a residence in the U.S, am I allowed to travel there?

Any traveler who has traveled through or has been physically present in a Schengen Area country within 14 days before entering the U.S would be denied entry to its borders. This rule extends to anyone, even those who own property in the U.S. If you feel you may be exempted from the travel ban proclamation for any reason, you can contact a local U.S Embassy or Consulate where you are to make inquiries regarding your situation.

Can I travel to the neighboring countries in the U.S with my ESTA?

ESTA allows you to be admitted to the U.S under the VWP – with this approval, you may take a short trip to Canada, Mexico or any of the nearby islands within U.S jurisdiction. Note that these trips also count towards your 90-day stay limit granted upon your arrival to the U.S, so your entire trip including the short trips must be 90 days or less.