Watch Out For For Rip-offs When Applying For An ESTA

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If you're travelling to the United States for a holiday or a limited number of other activities you need to apply for a visa waiver through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system. I had to apply for a visa waiver last night and discovered, the hard way, that there are businesses out there that make the cost of a ESTA far higher without adding any value. In other words, beware the ESTA rip-off.

Like many people, I simply hit Google, searched for ESTA, and clicked the first link I saw that wasn't an ad. It turns out I clicked on the very official looking and sounding estasystem.com. It's one of several sites, I later discovered, that provide a pretty front-end to the service offered by US Customs and Border Protection.

The offical site for applying for an ESTA is https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/application.html.

The rip-off comes in the fees. The official fee for an ESTA is US$14.00. But these unofficial sites bump that up to US$84.00.

What I realised after the fact was that the unofficial sites call themselves "Visa assistance services". Other than making the form you need to fill in a little nicer, these "visa assistance services" don't actually do anything to help you along the way.

If you need to apply for a visa or a waiver for any country, start by going to the official website, paying close attention to ensure you don't end up paying excessive and unnecessary fees.


Comments

    Last line sums it up - anything official, start at a .gov (or similar) address. Theres a reason its a domain set of its own. There are times they might redirect you to standard .com pages, but as long as you're starting at a .gov location, they'll be fine.

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