If you’re flying to the USA this year, take note – there’s been a change to immigration rules that you might not know about! On April 1st, US Homeland Security introduced a new regulation that requires all people visiting the USA on an ESTA to have a biometric passport. The problem is, they've done it so quietly that some people are not finding out about it until they get to the airport and are told they can’t board their flight.
The ESTA (Electric System for Travel Authorisation) is a great system for Brits, allowing them to skip the tedious process of applying for a visa and instead get an ESTA, a permission to enter the US that is applied for online, approved immediately and costs just $14 (around £10).
However the new rule means that even if you have your ESTA, you could be denied entry to the US if your passport is not the ‘new-style’ biometric type. Biometric passports, also known as ePassports, have an embedded chip that stores all your personal details and facial recognition, and have been around since early 2006.
Passports expire every 10 years so the majority of people will have needed their passport replaced by now and will automatically have been issued with a biometric one, but it’s estimated that there are still around 1.3 million old-style passports still in use. This puts a substantial number of British travellers at risk of being denied entry to the US for their holiday this year.
How do I know if my passport is biometric?
The good news is, it’s easy to check if you already have a biometric passport. On the front of all biometric passports is a symbol that looks a bit like a camera – a block rectangle intersected by a line and a circle – that identifies it as an ePassport. If your passport doesn’t have one, this is when you know you need to act.
I don’t have a biometric passport – what do I do?
If your passport isn’t biometric you’ll have to get a new one before your holiday. It takes 3 weeks to get a new passport processed and delivered via the standard service (which currently costs £72.50), so apply as soon as you can. If your holiday is sooner than that, you will have to go to your nearest Passport Customer Service Centre and pay for either a 1-week fast track (£103) or 1-day premium service (£128).
Will an ESTA on my old passport be valid on my new one?
If you have previously applied for an ESTA on your non-biometric passport, it will not be valid on your new one. After you’ve received your ePassport, you will have to apply for a new ESTA or you will still be denied entry to the USA.
If I’m prevented from boarding my flight because I have an old-style passport, can I claim from my travel provider or insurance company?
No! Whether you miss out on the whole holiday or spend more money to fly at a later date, neither your travel company nor your insurance company are liable. It’s always the responsibility of the individual to make themselves aware of immigration regulations and comply with them, so make sure you’re informed on all travel rules well in advance. This applies to any holiday you go on!
Do you know anyone who was caught out by the USA’s new passport rules? Are you going to the US and only just hearing about the change in regulation? Let us know in the comments!