ESTA Information: US Travel Tips & Guidelines


In this article

On this page, you will find a how-to-guide which explains the process of applying for an ESTA and a brief collection of travel tips to make your trip to the US easier and more comfortable.

ESTA application

Important Safety Information

While it is unlikely you will encounter any dangerous conditions in the USA, it is still useful to have information at hand for if you encounter any sort of emergency situation. Phone numbers, addresses, and instructions on what you need to do are vital should you need any assistance.
Although millions of tourists from the UK visit the US every year, it never hurts to be prepared and to be aware of your options should you need any help.
Before you travel
The foreign office of the UK government keeps a list of general recommendations for travelling abroad, not dependent on the country you’ll be visiting. You can check their advice on their website. As a basic rule, you should keep this information in mind and follow this advice:
  • Find out where the nearest consulate or embassy is from your destination. Make sure to keep contact information for it such as the telephone number, address, and an email address available and on your person.
  • Make sure that you have the correct paperwork to enter the country, such as the ESTA, a valid passport, and any other required documentation.
  • Budget for your trip and make sure you have enough money to cover unexpected costs, such as an early flight or extra accommodation.
  • Make sure your telephone will work abroad. Although unlikely, in some cases you might have issues connecting to networks.
  • Travel and items insurance is worth looking into, especially if you plan on doing exciting activities like extreme sports.
British embassies and consulates are available for emergency assistance – keep their contact information as your first point of contant should you need help while you’re in the U.S.
Items allowed in the USA
There are a number of restricted and prohibited items that you can’t bring to the US. The usual items you can’t bring are items such as liquids over 100ml, and other items which are banned from international and domestic air travel. The United States has its own border and customs control which prohibits certain items from being allowed through. The full list can be checked here. We have assembled a brief summary of items which are allowed, and those which aren’t. Although this will mostly only affect you if you’re planning on importing products, it’s still good to keep in mind in case you wanted to bring a gift to a friend, or carry something back home after your journey.
Ticket is marked as SSSS
It could be that when you receive your boarding pass when you check in, that there is a small collection of letters on the pass itself. That collection is “SSSS” – and this stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. To start with, this doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong – however it does mean that you were selected (either at random or according to certain criteria) to have a few extra security checks done when you go through the security checkpoints at the airport.
Where to stay in the USA?
Traditionally when travelling to the U.S you will pick a hotel in which to stay. Being the default option for most people also has its perks, as most of the system is centred around it. By staying in a hotel, you will have a reservation for months in advance and also a body of staff that can help you along the way. If you need to have your luggage delivered to the hotel as it got lost, somebody can deal with it. You will be able to make requests, ask for advice, and generally have a whole crew of people who know the area and might be able to help you out.
There are plenty of hotels to pick from in the U.S, ranging from upscale 5-star affairs to more humble family-run bed and breakfasts. With options available for most budgets, most travellers don’t have difficulty finding somewhere to stay, no matter the area. It’s recommended that you look up your hotels in advance, so you can pick out the best one on location, price, and amenities. It’s also recommended that you book with the hotel directly to avoid any reservation problems.
While in the USA
When you’ve passed through security in the airport, you are now in the U.S and ready to start enjoying your trip. Although risks for the U.S are very low, it’s worth keeping an eye on the government updates and advisories regarding the country. Weather updates, security updates, and any other things to be on the lookout for will be posted there. You can check them while you’re there with an internet connection, or before you travel.
Travelling as a Family
Travelling as a family is exciting but it also packs in that adventure a whole new set of difficulties which you might not have experienced previously. Kids need their own equipment, they need to be entertained, and they also have their own preferences and dislikes just like anyone else – and it’s up to you to help them out the best way you can. Everyone can use a few pointers, so we’ve assembled a few tips to help you out.
What to expect from airport security?
Security in airports in the USA is very tight – who can come in and who can go out are strictly controlled. As a result, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) who are in charge of the security around travelling through airports, have implemented a number of rules and regulations to make sure that all travellers are passed through securely, and as efficiently as possible.
Getting around
Getting around in the United States is something you’ll want to consider when travelling there – are you sticking to the city, going out to see some natural sights, or are you going on an epic cross-country road trip? Wherever the destination, you should make sure to look up ways to get around.
Visa differences
Your visa is your permission to enter the United States. Each one has a different duration, purpose, and is applicable in different circumstances. Which one you need to apply for will depend on the reason for your visit, and how long you plan to stay, along with other factors such as your legal history and your passport. You should read up on each type of visa.
Terrorist Travel Prevention Act
In 2016 the Visa Waiver Program, or VWP, which had been implemented in 2011, underwent some changes. Following a vote, nationals of VWP countries who had travelled to or been present in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, were no longer allowed to apply for VWP and would not be eligible for it.
Travel advisories
Travelling to the United States is generally a stress-free affair, with it being one of the safest countries to visit, especially for U.K. nationals. It never hurts, however, to be aware of potential risks or just in case it should affect your travel plans. As the United States is such a large country, it’s likely that if someone is affecting one area it might be too far to affect you at all, but you should always check information prior to travelling just in case.
For the most up-to-date risks and advisories you should keep an eye on the official UK Gov website. We’ve assembled a current page of the most important advisories to be aware of here, however.

Travel Tips

Once you have your flights booked, your trip sorted, and you’ve gotten your approved application from ESTA, you are ready to travel. However you should always keep a few things in mind before making your trip to the United States.
Your Departure
The most important thing to have with you is the collection of your documents. It’s advised to keep copies of your documents, to take the originals with you and have at least one set of copies to leave with a trusted friend or relative. Make sure to keep all of your relevant documentation that you will need to present to officials in your carry-on luggage, and don’t pack it into your checked in luggage.
When you’re heading to the USA, or flying out, you will need to go through security before you can go to the gate and board your flight. If your boarding pass has been marked with SSSS, short for Secondary Security Screening Selection, then you will need to go through additional security checks when boarding. These checks are more intense and so you may be patted down, have your bags swabbed and searched, and have additional scans performed.
If your pass is marked with this, you will also not be able to print your boarding passes at home and will be redirected to a ticket desk when you go to the airport. People who have gone through this extra screening claim that it doesn’t take longer than 10-20 minutes, however, so just make sure to leave extra time for your journey when going to the airport. Make sure to become familiar with what items are and aren’t allowed when flying into the USA. You must declare agricultural products, as many aren’t allowed into the country. Most items with meat in them are not allowed, but you will be able to bring in small meals (for example, a homemade meal to eat on your journey). Any medication you bring should only be the amount that a person would use for the duration of their stay, especially if it could potentially contain addictive drugs or narcotics, such as cough medicine, sleeping pills, or similar.
Your Destination
After you’ve flown, and arrived to your destination in the United States, you’ll need to pass through passport control in the USA. You can carry out these checks in some airports by way of APC kiosks. These kiosks are ideal for streamlining your Customs and Border Check process, as you can input answers to the CBP inspection questions, your biographic information, and your flight information on the kiosks. You can also input your customs declarations on the kiosk. They will also scan your passport for you, and you only need to take the final receipt and your passport from the kiosk to a CBP Officer, who will then finalise your, inspection for entry.
These kiosks are available in many different airports in the USA., but a full list can be found on the Customs and Border Check website. The APC kiosks are eligible for use by travellers who have entered the country using ESTA, so the process of passing through border security will become much easier, and faster.
Electronic devices
Although travellers are able to take their electronic devices with them onto flights, you willneed to scan them separately in security in much the same way as when travelling to many other countries. If you are flying in or out of the United States, you may need to show to security that your devices are charged by powering them on.
Devices with no charge in them will be confiscated by the security agents, so make sure to keep them fully charged before you leave for the airport and go through security.
Travel Guidelines
It is important that prior to departure you are aware of the latest safety updates, and travel guidelines. You can check these with your local embassy, and have a look at travel guidelines to the USA on the official TSA website, where new rules and regulations are posted.
You will need to keep up to date with these as your departure approaches, and not just check them when you make your ESTA application. It could be that there are new regulations regarding luggage, arrival at the airport, or paperwork.

Written by Abisola Fikayomi

Abisola is an accomplished writer interested in US Travel, immigration, passports and visas. She’s passionate about exploring new places and cultures and willing to share her experiences, expertize and findings with others. That is her primary drive for specialising in this industry.