Traveling to the United States is currently extremely difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries are restricted from entering on a casual basis, although there are some exceptions. For now, it’s China, Iraq, UK, Schengen area, Ireland, and Brazil that are banned from entering the US – but this isn’t permanent.

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Assuming you’re one of the exceptions, or perhaps anticipating a change in border policy, you can make your entry into the USA as smooth as possible with an ESTA visa. All countries require visas for some travelers – and they can be a long and difficult process. ESTA visas are perhaps the easiest way into American however, which stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization – an automated system for entering the States.

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How long is ESTA valid for?

The validity of the visa waiver program allows for 90 days of multiple entries into the USA for up to 2 years – so it may be a good time to get one whilst travel is quiet, in anticipation of a vaccine or relaxing lockdown measures.

How to check if your ESTA is still valid?

There is one main way to answer the question “Is my ESTA still valid?”. If you can remember when it was active, then it’s easy: it lasts two years presuming your passport hasn’t run out either. If not, then you can contact ESTAform at [email protected].

It’s important to also keep track of your visa status whilst in America, so you can exit the country when you’re due.

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How to apply for ESTA?

Only some countries are eligible for the ESTA visa waiver. Fortunately, this list is 39 countries long, including most European countries and a couple of others, such as Japan, Morocco, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Applying for an ESTA is easy. It’s simply a form, with your personal details, health, and criminal questions, and purpose of the trip. Applications can be relatively last minute but certainly, allow at least 72 hours before traveling with your application.

Extra tips to remember when entering the US

US Travel Tips 2020 How you can check your ESTA validity
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Upon arrival into the US, you may not have to self-isolate, but it’s worth getting a test, which is readily available and reasonably fast. Further, it’s worth checking on the State-specific lockdown rules, because some are requiring masks and abstaining from certain activities, whilst other counties (i.e. Texas) are more relaxed.

It’s crucial to respect and comply with lockdown measures being a visitor in another country, both as a form of respect and to not recklessly spread the virus. Further, you will incur fines for not complying, and these may be larger than you expect compared to back home.

US Travel Tips 2020 How you can check your ESTA validity
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Upon arrival, turn off data roaming unless you have a US-specific mobile data plan – you won’t have the benefit of EU roaming anymore and rates will be high. Fortunately, the US has a lot of WiFi hotspots. Also, make sure to manually check what time zone you’re in – there are six time zones in America, which can very quickly cause confusion and afford you missing public transport.

It’s worth reading up on tipping etiquette in the US before going. Tips aren’t a generous extra, they’re a social norm and even a prerequisite in some scenarios. 15%+ tips are expected in restaurants because minimum wage is relatively low, whilst bartenders, housekeepers, concierge, valets, doormen, and taxi drivers are all expecting tips.

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By Sarah