With effect from the 12th January 2009, all Visa Waiver Travellers will be required to obtain an electronic travel authorisation prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the USA or US Caribbean Islands. The electronic system for travel authorisation will be accessible via the internet for citizens and eligible nationals to apply for advance authorisation to travel under the Visa Waiver Programme.
To obtain an electronic authorisation, click here to log onto the ESTA Website
You can then complete an on-line application form. Applications must be submitted prior to travel and the US Department of Homeland Security recommends that applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel. However, please note: Any travellers who are not authorised to travel to the USA using this system must obtain a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before travelling to the USA and this should be done as soon as possible as applying for a US visa is/can be a very lengthy process.
All passengers entering the USA on the Visa Waiver Programme will be required to hold a machine-readable passport (the newer red passports). This also includes passengers who only intend to transit the USA en route to another country.
What is a Machine Readable Passport – A MRP has the holder’s personal details, e.g. name, date of birth, nationality and their passport number contained in two lines of text at the base of the photo page. A machine can read this text.
Please note that the UK has been issuing MRP’s since 1988, however, British passports issued overseas may not be machine-readable.