Only a few months ago, the thought of going on a holiday this summer seemed like a fever dream.
Yet with vaccination rollouts ahead of schedule in the USA, the country has already hinted at relaxing the travel ban currently in place, which also applies to visa-exempt ESTA countries. With UK vaccinations also progressing fluidly, a summer holiday might not seem like such a far-fetched idea after all.
ESTA? What’s that again?
The system is the primary way European citizens travel to the USA. Travellers from a country that is included in America’s ESTA program are exempt from needing a visa to enter the USA. They can instead apply for an ESTA, which unlike the visa is an electronic authorisation. ESTAs are applied for online, so a visit to the embassy is not required. Unsurprisingly, countries are eager to be included, but currently only 39 countries are given the privilege. Both the United Kingdom and Ireland are included.
USA popular destination for Brits
Each year, millions of British tourists go to the USA on holiday. In 2019, this number was 4.7 million. The reverse also holds true: Americans love to go to the UK. 3.5 million tourists visited the UK from the USA in 2019, spending over 3 billion pounds.
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a sharp drop in global travel, as countries around the world closed their borders and implemented strict rules, both for incoming travellers and the domestic population. In 2020, only 730,000 people made the trip from the UK to the USA.
USA vaccinations ahead of schedule
Shortly after becoming president, Joe Biden stated that he wanted to have one hundred million vaccinations carried out during his first 100 days in the White House. Not only was this number reached on day 58, the country exceeded the target so quickly that Biden set a new goal of 200 million vaccinations, and the country seems well on its way to meet this goal. The USA is leading the world in the sheer number of vaccinations, though when looking at per capita vaccinations, it sits at 4th place behind the UK (3rd place).
Summer holiday possible?
The big question on everyone’s mind is: will going on holiday to the USA become possible this summer? Of course, this does not solely rely on the US government. The UK is currently still in lockdown, and the government’s roadmap does not specify holidays abroad, which is currently still illegal. Yet, with the UK leading the global charge in vaccinations, there is a likely possibility that new relaxations might be announced in the near future, provided infection numbers continue to drop. Among these relaxations might be the possibility to go on holiday abroad again, under certain conditions. These plans may include a so-called ‘vaccination passport’, which states that a person does not pose a risk of spreading coronavirus.
Likewise, the US government is currently focused on getting domestic travel back to a pre-pandemic level. Biden stated that he hoped Americans would be able to celebrate Independence Day with their families, without fear of the virus. Additionally, and more importantly for Brits, sources close to the government say that the Biden administration is considering relaxing the European travel ban that is currently in place. This ban currently prohibits anyone from entering the country if 14 days prior to their trip, they have been in the EU or the United Kingdom. The US government is looking into possibilities to relax some of the stricter requirements mid-May.
ESTA or visa?
A commonly asked questions concerning trips to the USA is whether one should apply for an ESTA or a visa. As a rule of thumb, British travellers should always first check whether they can apply for an ESTA. They are easier to obtain and, more importantly, quite a bit cheaper than a visa. The ESTA system comes with stricter rules compared to the standard visa, especially concerning criminal and travel history. For instance, if you have visited Iraq in the last 9 years, you cannot apply for an ESTA. Travellers that fail the background check can attempt a visa application.