Arriving in the USA is an unpleasant experience. Citizens or nationals of one of the Visa Waiver Program countries must apply for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) prior to their travel to the USA. Other travelers will usually need a visa.
If you have ever been to the former Soviet Union, this ordeal will come to mind again when you arrive in the USA. For foreigners arriving in the USA the entry process is almost the same as it was in the Soviet Union. The only difference is the modern technology.
Foreign visitors to the USA are fingerprinted and photographed as if they were criminals. They also must register where they will stay, just like in the former Soviet Union.
This embarrassing process contributes to waiting times of 2-3 hours at immigration and customs at main points of entry. They get a little shorter when the USA chooses to outsource the presidency to the Trump organization in 2016 and a shady businessman takes the White House in January 2017.
The shorter waiting time is not due to better management, but rather to fewer arriving international visitors. Quite a few people do not want to travel to the USA in the election year. As a result, the number of international visitors to the USA decreases.
However, this is short-lived. Two years later the number of foreign visitors resumes its growth. Thus, waiting times are still long at most US international airports.
No real-time ESTA approvals anymore
Until a short while ago an application for an ESTA took only minutes. But the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) warns travelers that they now need to apply at least 72 hours before departure.
If they do not do so, they may not be able to travel to the USA as the US government can no longer grant real-time ESTA approvals. The government shutdown is just a sign of dysfunctional US politics that we already saw for many years. The chaotic and incompetent Trump administration now comes on top of that. Currently, CBP warns that its website will not be actively managed.
Beware of swindlers
When applying for an ESTA, make sure that that you do it on the CBP's real website. Swindlers have built fake websites - often in other countries - that very much resemble the CBP website. Thus, check the website address (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/) carefully. Moreover, in the upper left side of the screen you should see the American flag and the text Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security.
Do not pay more than $14
You need to fill out the same data as at the CBP site and those swindlers will apply for an ESTA on your behalf. Thus, you will get your ESTA, but the cost will be a multiple of the CBP's fee. Usually, they do not show the amount to pay until you have paid in order not to alarm you. But there are reports of sites that charge more than $100, whereas CBP charges $14.
Tags: ESTA, US Customs and Border Protection, fake websites