If you’re planning a trip to the USA, there’s some bad news in store with the country this week increasing the cost of its mandatory Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application for inbound tourists from 40 countries, including Singapore and Australia.
The price was increased on 26th May 2022 from US$14 (S$19) to US$21 (S$29), with less than two days notice provided.
This is the first time the fee for an ESTA has increased since 2015, when it was hiked from US$10 to US$14.
An ESTA continues to be valid for multiple entries (up to 90 days per trip) to the USA over a two-year period, so if you already have an approved ESTA you do not have to re-apply yet, but you will face the increased fee once you need a new one.
Don’t forget testing costs
The new cost of an ESTA means a family of four will face an extra US$28 (S$38) to visit the US, for a total cost of US$84 (S$115).
Additionally, the USA still requires pre-departure COVID-19 testing, in the form of a PCR or ART test taken within one calendar day of your flight departure date, allowing you between 24-48 hours to have your swab, depending on your flight departure time. Those aged under two are exempt from the test.
With Tele-ART tests in Singapore generally costing around S$12 per person, plus around S$5 for each self-procured test kit, it means a family of four are now looking at a total expenditure of at least S$183 to travel to the USA, before flights and other trip expenses are considered.
Granted, that’s probably still a small proportion of total trip costs for a Singapore – USA holiday, but it remains unwelcome and doesn’t apply at all for those heading to countries like Australia and the UK, where there are neither visa expenses nor COVID-19 tests to fork out for.
We should count ourselves lucky in Singapore though. Pre-departure ART testing costs here are low compared to countries like the UK, where an antigen swab sets travellers back around S$50 a time!Pro Tip: In addition to a pre-departure test and a valid ESTA, travellers aged two or over heading to the USA must also complete a pre-departure Attestation Form.
What’s the ESTA money for?
Currently, US$4 of the fee payable for an ESTA is set aside for the running of the system, with the remaining US$10 earmarked to “promote tourism to the US”.
The additional US$7 dollar charge effective from 26th May 2022 will be added directly to the tourism promotion budget, a 70% increase from US$10 to US$17 per application.
Yes, effectively it means tourists themselves are paying the lion’s share of the USA’s tourism advertising budget!
A good way to “promote US tourism”, in our opinion, might be to remove the (arguably completely ineffective) pre-departure testing requirement the country still insists on clinging onto!
The USA is now the only G20 nation with open borders mandating a pre-departure COVID-19 test, apart from South Korea.
That’s a strange stance to take while other G20 countries including the UK, Canada, Australia and France have long ditched the requirement. Let’s hope that complication and expense for USA trips is a thing of the past soon.
How to apply (official site)
The golden rule when applying for an ESTA is to only do so via the official US Customs and Border Protection website.
The internet, and internet searches for ESTA, are littered with official-looking websites that actually charge a premium (sometimes up to 10x the actual cost) for this simple application you can easily do yourself.
While ESTA approvals used to be instant, this changed in 2018 and it is recommended to apply at least 72 hours (three days) before departure to allow for processing.
You will need to apply for (and pay for) a new ESTA if you have a new passport since your last trip, even if it’s within two years (a current approved ESTA linked to an old passport cannot be used).
An ESTA is required even if you are only transiting in the USA en-route to a third country.
The EU will launch ETIAS in 2023
Visa expenses for Singaporeans will also start to kick in for trips to Europe next year.
The European Union will introduce the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) by May 2023, which will mean a fee for Singaporeans to travel to one of 26 European countries in the Schengen Area, like France, Italy and Germany.
Having an ETIAS in advance will be mandatory for travellers, applied for in advance like the ESTA, and will cost EUR 7 (around S$10) per person, though it will be valid for unlimited entires for three years.
Some good news though – an ETIAS will not be required for trips to the United Kingdom or Ireland, which are not part of the Schengen Area.
Singapore citizens will continue to be allowed to travel visa-free to the UK for up to six months at a time, as part of a reciprocal agreement between the two countries, or to Ireland for up to three months at a time, without the need to apply for a visa waiver.
If you’re planning a trip to the USA and your ESTA has expired, it will now cost you 50% more to obtain a new one with this latest price hike to US$21 per person.
For a family of four it represents a relatively significant additional cost of around S$115, on top of the mandatory pre-departure test expenses.
Hopefully the USA can remove the inconvenient PDT requirement sooner rather than later, which also acts to discourage some of its own residents from travelling overseas, for fear of becoming unable to return home as planned.
By next year the EU too will jump on the visa waiver authorisation bandwagon, charging non-EU residents including Singapore citizens around S$10 for a three-year entry approval.
(Cover Photo: Kai Pilger)