The United States is a popular destination for students, backpackers, and those on a gap year adventure or taking a career break – in fact, just about everyone. It is an amazing country, offering a diverse array of things to see and do. It is also relatively easy to travel around in the US, by road, bus, train, or even by air. Cheap hotels, motels and backpacker hostels are two-a-penny. It's a little over 3,000 miles from east coast to west coast, and those miles are jam-packed with a zillion opportunities for excitement and adventure.
Despite the many media reports it seems that word has not got out to everyone and some travellers are still unaware of the new Visa Waiver procedure for visiting the US – which was implemented in January 2009. Failure to follow the new procedure could result in problems at the port of entry and even denial of entry. The new rules affect countries included in the Visa Waiver Program – which was basically designed to cover travel to the US for business or pleasure for up to 90 days. Travellers who intend to stay in the US for longer than 90 days or have any issues which might negatively affect admission would probably not be eligible and should apply for a visa through the normal channels.
The US Department of Homeland Security's new 'Electronic System for Travel Authorisation' (ESTA) applies to all countries eligible under the US Visa Waiver Program (details are listed on the ESTA website). Visitors are now required to register their application online at least 72 hours prior to departure to the US For further important information and advice about travel to the US or to any country it is always a good idea to visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website, especially their excellent 'Know Before You Go' campaign.
One good reason to make sure your visa is in order – and one that many travellers may not be aware of – is that if anything should go wrong travel insurance policies usually exclude claims for losses associated with failure to obtain necessary visas. Ignorance is no excuse – and being denied entry could cause a lot of unnecessary expense – not to mention crushing disappointment.
Whether you plan to visit New York, the Florida Keys, celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans, head west to a dude ranch in Wyoming, hike the Grand Canyon, lose your wages in Las Vegas, ski the Rockies, or see for yourself where the movie stars live in Hollywood – a visit to the US is guaranteed to be an eye-opening experience. Do not miss out on all this fun by failing to follow the proper procedure – or put yourself at unnecessary risk by neglecting to take out travel insurance!