American border control is a thing of legends – and of TV shows. Notoriously tough, the idea of it might cause your dream of driving Route 66 to quake in its boots.
However, for Australians travelling through the US, the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (or ESTA for short) is your knight in shining armour. No longer do you need a US visa for your Route 66 tour.
What do Australians need to get on a plane to the US?
For a trip lasting less than 90 days, an ESTA is all that most Australians need to get on the plane to America. Introduced by the US in 2009, it's a part of the Visa Waiver Program, designed to simplify travel for residents of certain countries. Only costing US$14, it's quick and easy to apply for and the processing time is generally under 72 hours. However, it's still wise to apply for this as soon as you decide to travel to the US. That way if any complications arise you have time to deal with them.
If you are wanting to stay for longer, or your ESTA is declined, you'll have to complete a B-1 Visitor Visa or a B2 Tourist Visa application. This process is more in-depth and expensive.
Understanding the rules around an ESTA
While an ESTA is your much simpler solution to entering the US and finally getting to see the Grand Canyon, it's important to understand the rules around one.
You need to provide accurate and honest information when filling out the application. Incorrect or false answers could cause US authorities to reject your ESTA, and can even result in you being permanently ineligible for travelling to America.
Other reasons your application may not go through include:
- Travelling on an Emergency passport, Document of Identity, or Provisional Travel Document.
- You have a criminal record, or been arrested (even if this didn't result in a conviction).
- Since March 2011 you've travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.
- You're a dual citizen with either Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.
An ESTA is valid for two years, and multiple entries into the US. Each time you enter using it, you need to hold a return or onward ticket to show that you're not intending to extend your stay past the 90 day period allowed.
Another important thing to note is that once the 90-day timer begins ticking, it won't reset if you cross the border into Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. You need to leave the continent if you want to restart your 90 days.
This means that if, once reaching the end of Route 66, you wish to extend your trip by travelling through Canada afterwards, you'll either need to limit the full trip to less than 90 days, fly out of Canada, or apply for a visa instead of an ESTA.