The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is requiring that beginning January 12, 2009, eligible citizens or nationals from all Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries must obtain approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to traveling to the United States under the VWP.
The citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Seven new countries were added November 17, 2008; the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia.
With ESTA, citizens from countries under the Visa Waiver Program will no longer be required to complete a written form providing basic person, travel and eligibility information while en-route to the US. Instead, these information will have to be provided online under ESTA, at least 72 hours before departure for the US.
Once approved, ESTA applications will be valid for up to two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Authorizations are valid for multiple entries into the US.
Accompanied and unaccompanied children, regardless of age, will also be required to obtain an independent ESTA authorization.
Travellers from countries under the Visa Waiver Program who fail to obtain ESTA authorization after the system comes into effect, may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a US port of entry.
US authorities have started to accept voluntary applications through the ESTA website, at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov
However, until ESTA is made mandatory in January 2009, all US-bound travellers from countries under the Visa Waiver Program will still be required to complete a written form for presentation at a US port of entry.