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Electronic Travel Authorization required for Visa Waiver Countries
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Nationals from the Visa Waiver countries, wishing to enter the US will now need to apply electronically for travel authorization. The rule is effective from 12 January 2009.

According to the Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) Office at the US Embassy the number of British tourists applying for travel authorization is only about 3,700 a day. In January 2008 eight thousand British tourists travelled to the US every day. Therefore, it seems likely that many British tourists will face difficulties when entering the US.

Visa Waiver Program Applicants are advised to apply for ESTA at least 72 hours before travelling to the US. You should provide biographical data, including name, birth date, and passport information, destination address in the US. You will also need to answer questions regarding communicable diseases, arrests and convictions for certain crimes, and, if relevant, provide details of visa revocation or deportation.

Kelly Klundt, of the US Customs and Border Protection's Office of Public Affairs, said: "The Department of Homeland Security will take a reasonable approach to those travelers not in compliance with the travel authorization requirement. However, travelers who do not obtain an ESTA should be aware that they may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission upon arrival in the US."

Visa Waiver Program Passport Requirements:

In addition to obtaining an ESTA clearance, a Visa Waiver traveler must ensure that his or her passport complies with program requirements. Passport requirements differ based on the traveler's country of citizenship and the date the passport was issued.

If the traveler's passport was issued on or after October 26, 2006 or was issued by one of the eight new Visa Waiver member countries, it must be an "e-Passport." An e-Passport is similar to a traditional passport, except that it contains a small, integrated computer chip embedded in the back cover. The chip stores the traveler's biographic information, a digital image of the passport photograph, a unique chip identification number and a digital signature to protect the stored data from tampering.

If the passport was issued between October 26, 2005 and October 25, 2006, the passport must contain a digital photograph of the traveler and be machine-readable. A machine-readable passport contains two lines of text (including letters, numbers and chevrons) at the bottom of the passport's biographic page. When scanned through a passport reader, the machine-readable text electronically communicates the biographic information contained in the passport.

If the passport was issued before October 26, 2005, it must be machine-readable in order for the foreign national to be eligible for Visa Waiver Program travel.

The full list of visa waiver program Countries (including those that joined on November 17, 2008) are as follows:

Established Visa Waiver Program Countries:

Andorra  Luxembourg
Austria  The Netherlands
Belgium  New Zealand
Brunei  Norway
Denmark  Portugal
Finland  San Marino
France  Singapore
Germany  Slovenia
Iceland  Spain
Ireland  Sweden
Italy  Switzerland
Japan  United Kingdom

New Countries on the Visa Waiver Program since November 17, 2008:

Czech Republic  Lithuania
Estonia  Slovakia
Hungary  South Korea

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