Travellers to the United States now have to pay 14 dollars — around 11 euros — even if they are visa-exempt. Most of this is to pay for promoting the US for holidays, as visitor numbers have declined.
The fee goes by the name ‘Esta’, for Electronic System for Travel Authorisiation. Esta has been mandatory since January last year for anyone from the more than 30 countries that are part of a Visa Waiver Program, only now it is a paying concern.
Jacquelyn Aron Bednarz of the US Department of Homeland Security said: “What is important for travellers to know is only those who are applying for a new ESTA, beginning on September 8, will have to pay the fee. If you are one of those 26 million travellers who already have an approved ESTA, you don’t have to pay the fee, until your ESTA expires.”
Esta is valid for business and tourism travellers for stays of 90 days or less, valid for two years. The details on the application include passport number, date of birth and criminal record details, if any.
A European travel agent raised one of the objections her customers have. Christiane Vermant, an agency owner, said: “If you’re only on your way through the US and have a couple of hours’ stayover waiting for your connection at the airport, you still have to pay. That adds up for families with two or three children, when they’re not even staying in the US.”
Various consumer associations have criticised the American government’s forcing visitors to contribute to a fund to make the US look good around the world. Unless you are Esta approved, you will not be allowed on the plane.