When opportunity knocks…
It’s finally happened! The flight deal of a lifetime, a spur of the moment life changing opportunity or just a great impromptu catch up with a friend or loved one. There’s just one problem. You can’t go. The United States ESTA program requires visitors from almost every country to obtain a travel visa in advance and they’ve now made that process just a bit more difficult.
If you’ve been to the United States from 2010 onward, you know about the ESTA. The $14 travel authorization, or visa in everything but name, allows travelers from low risk countries to enter the United States. Airlines are fined if they check a passenger in without checking that their ESTA is valid.
Even for those caught out and unaware, the ESTA hasn’t been a big deal, because typically ESTA’s would be approved within hours, sometimes even instantly. Countries that require a visa in advance of travel are always frustrating, but this wasn’t a huge “ask”.
72 Hour Requirement
Effective immediately, ESTA’s must now be applied for 72 hours in advance or more. That’s right, you can no longer plan a spontaneous last minute travel to the USA unless you have an ESTA. In fact, even if you figure out your ESTA has expired 48 hours before flight, previously plenty of time to get one approved – you may now be completely out of luck.
Thankfully some people still report receiving their ESTA within 72 hours, so it’s worth trying anyway if you’re caught out.
You don’t need planned travel to apply for an ESTA, so the easiest way around this silly new hoop is to fork over the $14 in anticipation of one day traveling to the USA, within the next two years of validity. You never know when you may need it, and if it’s already done there’s no stress. Reapplying is much easier too. With that said…
The United States had the slowest tourism growth in 2017 of any top 10 country, and is one of only three in the top 10 requiring a visa in advance for a majority of travelers. China and Turkey are the other two. Every other nation allows visa free travel, or a visa on arrival for visitors from a majority of foreign countries.
The new hurdle makes it harder for businesses, which quite often operate on a last minute travel basis and spur of the moment visitors to consider United States travel, especially over more seamless options. Even those who’ve previously held ESTA’s can be caught out by unexpected expiration dates.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Spain grew tourism by over 8% and even Mexico, troubled by violence in popular resort areas managed 12% growth. The United States gained a mere 2% and ranks third behind France and Spain. Make no mistake: these data points show the clear effect of visa in advance requirements. China was the only other nation with growth under 3% and with the new 72 hour requirement tripping up prospective travelers to the USA, it’s hard to expect that number to change.