There are many scams in life and travel. Last year I discovered what I consider to be an ESTA scam and want to make sure you don’t fall for it.
If you travel frequently chances are that you will head off to a location which requires a visa or pre-arrival application. Well ESTA is one of these schemes which applies for visitors to the US. I’ll firstly give you some background information on the scheme.
What does ESTA stand for?
ESTA means Electronic System for Travel Authorization
What is it?
ESTA is a scheme devised by the United States Homeland Security to pre-screen foreign travellers who qualify under what has long been known as the visa-waiver program. It also resulted in the gradual withdrawal of the green visa-waiver form which had to be completed before going through Passport Control on arrival into the US.
The ESTA program only verifies that you are eligible to travel to the US but does not automatically guarantee entry to the US. Immigration could still deny you entry for any reason they see fit. You also need to complete an ESTA if you are “In Transit” whilst passing through a US airport.
Which countries citizens are covered in the ESTA program?
Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom. (Information correct as of March 2014).
How long is an ESTA valid for?
Two years. Then you have to apply for a new ESTA. An ESTA allows you entry for up to 90 days per visit and you can use the ESTA for multiple visits over those 2 years.
How much does an ESTA cost?
When I last paid in 2012 the cost of an ESTA was $14. This consisted of a $10 authorisation fee plus a processing charge.
How do I find out more about ESTA and where can I apply?
There is literally only one site that you need to use. It is the official US government site for ESTA which can be found here:- https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
What is the ESTA scam?
The ESTA scam are either imitation websites set up like the one above or visa processing agencies which charge a significantly larger fee to process the application. Charges can be up to $100+.
Why do I think it is a scam?
As someone who has applied a number of times for an ESTA it is easy for me to identify this as a scam. This is because the process of applying for an ESTA is very quick and easy. It literally takes a few minutes to complete an ESTA application and receive notice of your approval.
The scam is that these other websites or agencies charge a fortune to perform such a mundane task for you. They ask you to supply to them the exact same information that you would complete on the ESTA website. That is information such as your name, date of birth, passport details, flight details and intended address on arrival in the US.
The information above is basically the same information you enter on the ESTA website. Why would you want to pay around $100 to enter the same information on a different website for them to then apply to get an ESTA for you? It costs you more money and takes longer for you to get an approval. In addition you are dealing with an unknown visa application company you stumbled across on the internet. Do you really know what they are doing with all this personal information of yours?
Whilst giving out personal information over the internet has risks in itself, I think I’d rather trust a government website than a third party one.
How did I find out about the ESTA scam websites?
From time to time I get approached by people who want to submit articles or links on my website. Flights And Frustration has a growing audience, is Google Page Rank 3 and at the time of writing this an Alexa rank of 108,844. This is reasonably good internet property so placing a link on the site would enhance the value of the destination of the link.
This advertiser offered me a fee to place the article and link on my website. This is fair enough since I don’t allow free advertising on my site. However I wanted to research the company behind the link to find out if I would be happy to be associated with them.
I performed some research and I was not happy at all. There were a host of negative reviews. People complaining they paid $100+ for the service, which shocked me since I know it costs me $14 for about 5 minutes of my time.
Also some of these ESTA applications could take up to a week or even weeks before being completed. This was ridiculous in my mind. Every time I’ve applied for an ESTA I’ve had an online confirmation within 10 minutes or less.
This was clearly a company I felt was charging an excessively highly fee and profiteering from people’s lack of knowledge about ESTA. This ESTA scheme is a con.
Also the service was poor due to the time lags and general discontent in the online reviews.
So whilst the advertiser wanted to promote a company as helping people with the ESTA program I suspect it was not helping.
Instead I decided to help readers myself by writing this article. The link above has not been paid for. It is not a commercial organisation and is not an affiliate link. It is a genuine Government organisation.
Don’t get me wrong, I welcome genuine and credible inquiries to advertise on this site. I have various costs to cover such as domain names, web hosting, wordpress themes and plugins plus occasional IT consultancy costs. These things add up.
I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half now and I can honestly tell you that I’ve barely covered my costs. There are many travel bloggers out there who seek to drive as much income as they can from their blog and they are quite open and successful about it. I am quite happy for them and wish them well. For me though that is not my current focus.
I am looking to continue to grow my audience by providing useful, interesting and entertaining information.
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I hope that my warning on the ESTA scam has been helpful to you and I look forward to providing more useful travel related articles in the future.