Well, to say that I’ve had a stressful few days would be an understatement.
I was meant to go on holiday two days ago, on a sunny cruise vacation with my friend, out of Orlando, Florida. I was supposed to enjoy a week of relaxing, eating all the buffet food, and have my prosecco delivered to me by Mickey Mouse.
Alas, that did not happen.
Why, you ask?
Well, because when I got to the check-in desk at the airport I was informed that I was unable to fly because I didn’t have a valid ESTA visa because I got a new passport two weeks prior!
To say that I was devastated is obvious. I only got the new passport because I was nervous that I wouldn’t be allowed to use my old one because it expired in 6 months time. Sod’s law!!
I am currently sat at home, trying to sort out accommodation and travel to hopefully still make something of a holiday for this next week, but it is costing me an ARM AND A LEG.
So, I thought I would give you a few tips on how to fly to America, stress-free. Then, hopefully, you won’t miss anything and make the same (very costly) mistakes that I did.
America doesn’t mess around!
Make sure your passport is more than 6 months in date when you fly.
If your passport has less than 6 months left on it then everyone recommends getting a new one.
Boarder control can refuse to let you into the country if you have less than 6 months validity. You don’t want to risk getting to the gates and then being denied boarding.
When I realised that my passport had just under 6 months validity left, with only 3 weeks until my vacation, I promptly ordered a new one.
Getting a new passport can take a couple of months to arrive, so make sure that you plan accordingly. Ensure you don’t send off your passport if you’re going to need it in the time that it could potentially be away.
I booked an ‘on-the-day’ appointment at the passport office because I couldn’t risk it taking longer than 3 weeks. (It was over Christmas period, so the chances were high.) It set me back £177 and I had to drive to Durham and wait around for 4 hours, but it was a very quick and easy procedure. And I got to wander around Durham for the 4 hours, so I didn’t have to sit in a waiting room longer than 2 minutes.
Apply for your ESTA visa with plenty of time to spare.
The company who issue and approve visas have recently changed their policy. You now have to apply for a visa more than 72-hours before you fly.
You can no longer get an ESTA visa at the airport; you have to apply online.
My advice would be to apply for a visa as soon as you book your flights, just to play it safe. Then if there are any problems, you have time to try rectify them.
They don’t send you an email confirmation that you have been approved for your visa, so keep checking in on the website. You can check your visa status on the website by putting in your passport number and name/date of birth. So keep checking in until you know that it has either been approved or declined.
If you get a new passport, make sure you apply for a new ESTA visa.
Now, this is where I got bitten in the ass.
I thought that I was good-to-go with an ESTA visa because I had been approved and it was still valid (I checked online).
I didn’t realise that I had to apply for a whole new ESTA visa once I got a new passport.
As a result, my holiday got ruined and I am forking out a ridiculous amount of money to book a whole new holiday to try salvage what remains.
SO, IF YOU GET A NEW PASSPORT, MAKE SURE YOU APPLY FOR A NEW ESTA VISA WITH THAT NEW PASSPORT NUMBER.
Also, don’t forget to keep checking in on the website to ensure that you have been approved. Just because you got approved before, it doesn’t mean you definitely will again.
If you have a previous criminal conviction, be prepared that you might not get in the country.
We all know that the U.S.A is serious about their immigration and border control. The life-long joke is that when somebody gets arrested we go: ‘Ooh, they’ll never get into America now.”
Well, it is actually kinda true.
If you have a previous criminal conviction and want to travel, make sure that you apply for a visa as soon as possible. Keep checking up on the status and get in touch with customer support.
One of my friends got stung with this by getting to the airport and discovering they hadn’t been approved for a visa because of a criminal conviction nearly 10 years ago. As a result, they weren’t able to go on their vacation and lost a hell of a lot of money. Not to mention it was very upsetting and disappointing.
You may need to apply for a police report to send to the visa company to try to fight your case. But it’s not guaranteed to make them change their mind on granting you entry.
So, if you have gotten into trouble in the past, maybe apply for your visa before you book your flights. Save yourself the heartache and the empty pockets.
And those are my important tips on how to fly to America with as little hiccups as possible. I hope you have a much more stress-free journey than I have had. Fingers crossed all will go well the next time I attempt to travel to the U.S.A!
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is compiled from my own personal experience and is in no way affiliated with the visa companies, passport people or U.S government. I take no responsibility if your travel plans ‘go to pot’ due to my advice. I mean, they shouldn’t because I’m giving you solid advice and warnings, but you never know in this crazy karmic world. I am also British, so the tips here are based on a British citizen living in the U.K, so rules may differ for different countries and citizens.