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Posts Tagged ‘ESTA’

With the focus on staycations and naycations, there’s little reporting on important nuts-and-bolts issues affecting thousands still on the road.  Expect to hear about these only when they start causing major snarls for casual tourists unaware of the changes.

  • Flying to the United States this year?  As of January 12, 2009, all travelers to the U.S. from Visa Waiver countries (that’s Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom [and in the near future, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Poland  and Romania too]) will be required to submit their travel plans online 72 hours prior to travel.  Failure to complete ESTA authorization before travel may result in denial of boarding or entry.  Read the details about this change in the post U.S. to Require Online Registration for Visa-Free Travelers.
  • After January 16, 2009, you’ve got to use Euros when traveling in Slovakia.  They’re the 16th EU country to switch to the currency since its introduction a decade ago.  Later this year, expect the Czech Republic to finalize a date for their switch (expected early 2010).
  • Travelers transiting or changing planes within Mexico will now be subject to customs inspection before continuing to their next flight.  International travelers to the United States will be familiar with the drill:  claim checked baggage and proceed through customs, then drop off baggage again before heading to the connecting gate.  Flights from the Caribbean, Central and South America have already begun the procedure; February 1 is the date for flights from Canada, Asia and Europe; flights from the U.S. have until September 1 to comply.  Be aware and avoid tight connections.  And don’t forget to lock that luggage!
  • Starting June 1, 2009, it will no longer be possible to travel by air, land or sea without a passport to destinations in the Western Hemisphere, such as Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.  Children under 16 may use a birth certificate in lieu of passport.  This requirement also applies to Americans attempting to reenter the United States.  Details here.

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From the producer of our poorly-orchestrated increased airline security measures (“Only Terrorists Carry 200 ml of Toothpaste”) and the creator of the color-based national security threat chart (“Like Clockwork, Orange!”), a new move certain to alienate our closest friends and allies:  starting January 12, 2009, all travelers to the U.S. who travel without visa restrictions (15 million people annually) will now be required to register themselves and their travel plans online at least 72 hours prior to travel or be denied boarding on their chosen air or sea carrier.

Just whom does this affect?  Try Andorra, Austria, Australia, 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.  (In the near future, our friends from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and South Korea too.)

What hasn’t changed?  This is the same information the U.S. government has always collected from these travelers on a form passed out by each carrier prior to arrival and turned in to border agents.  The digital information will be kept just as long as the paper version:  an unbelievable 75 years!  Canadians and Mexicans are not affected by this regulation, nor are those arriving by car, foot, bus or bicycle.

What has changed?  The information can be submitted ONLY via internet.  Travelers must provide this information no later than 72 hours in advance of their departure or will be denied boarding.  Those denied visa-free waivers will be notified prior to arrival on U.S. soil that they will not be granted admission and directed to apply for visas.  While currently free, the government is reserving the right to charge for this “service”!

What’s improved?  If your passport details don’t change, your ESTA travel authorization remains valid for two years and for multiple entries into the U.S., meaning frequent travelers will in fact have less paperwork.  If you were going to be denied visa-free entry, you would find out ahead of time, allowing you to apply for a visa prior to travel.

What’s still unclear?  Who exactly is responsible for filing the information:  you or your ticket agent?  What happens for last-minute travelers?  How will airlines know who’s filed and who hasn’t?  Will the EU approve the measure following its examination of the related treaties of its member states? And might they seriously start charging to finance the change?

Reactions, not surprisingly, have been negative.

New Zealand Herald:  Travel Agents Association New Zealand president Peter Barlow said travellers to Europe increasingly chose to travel via Asia because of the US’s “extreme” stance on security.  “This is just another compelling reason to not go via the States.”

Washington Post:  Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said the effort “contributes to an atmosphere of general distrust” fostered by American security measures. “Transatlantic cooperation between the intelligence services is the only way forward, not the massive collection of data in general,” she said.

Australia is the only other country which has a similar program in place for visa-free travel.  They currently charge $20 AUD for running the check.

Interesting factoid (from Business Standard):  the program was to be called ETA [Electronic Travel Authorization] but became ESTA instead after Spanish officials expressed reservations because of the Basque separatist group also known as ETA.

Thanks to Dana for the tip!

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