The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You’ll need prior authorisation to enter the United States using a British passport, either through a visa, a Permanent Resident Card, or the Visa Waiver Programme. It’s your responsibility to know and understand the entry rules before you travel.
Visa Waiver Programme (VWP)
Most passport holders can get an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) through the Visa Waiver Programme, which allows travel to the US for up to 90 days. The types of journey allowed under the VWP include tourism, certain types of business visit and transit to another country.
You’ll generally qualify to enter the USA using the VWP if your British passport:
- describes your nationality as a ‘British Citizen’
- is an ePassport with this internationally recognised symbol on the front cover
- have received authorisation from the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA)
haven’t been arrested for certain crimes, even if a criminal conviction didn’t result
aren’t a dual national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria
haven’t travelled to Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since March 2011
- can show that you have enough funds available on arrival to support yourself during your stay, even if you’re staying with family and friends
Certain exemptions apply on a case-by-case basis to those who have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia or Yemen since March 2011. For more information see the website of the US Customs and Border Protection Agency or contact the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.
You should complete an online pre-registration form on the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) website, before you travel. The US Customs and Border Patrol recommends that you do this at least 72 hours before departure. Applying for and securing an ESTA is a separate process to providing your airline with advance passenger information (details of your passport, country of residence, address of your first night’s accommodation in the US etc). For more information, and to apply online, visit the official ESTA website.
If you’re arriving by land or on a ferry from Vancouver or Victoria in Canada, you don’t need to complete an ESTA before you arrive at the border.
The VWP is intended to be used for occasional, short visits to the US. If a US immigration officer thinks you’re trying to ‘reset’ the clock by making a short trip out of the US and re-entering for another 90-day period, you can be denied entry.
If you travel from the US to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean you can usually re-enter using the ESTA and admission stamp you were issued when you first arrived in the US, although the time you spend outside of the country is included in the 90 days allotted for your visit. Make sure you’re clear about the length of time the immigration officer has authorised you to remain in the US if you re-enter under the same ESTA.
If your current British passport is not an ePassport you can contact Her Majesty’s Passport office for a replacement to allow you to use the VWP. Otherwise, you’ll need to apply for a visa to enter the United States on your current passport.
If you don’t qualify for entry under the VWP, and don’t have a US Permanent Resident Card, you should apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate before travelling.
Further details on the US immigration rules is available on the Customs and Border Protection website.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. You don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
The US Customs and Border Protection programme Global Entry gets pre-approved travellers through border control faster at some US airports. If you’re a British citizen you can now register to get a UK background check on GOV.UK. If you pass the background checks, you’ll be invited to apply for Global Entry.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) aren’t valid for entry into the United States or transit through the United States on an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Programme. If you’re planning to enter or transit through the US using an ETD you must apply for a visa from the nearest US embassy or consulate before you travel, which may take a number of days, or hold a valid lawful permanent resident card (often referred to as a ‘green card’), which you must have with you on arrival. You can leave the US using an ETD that has been issued in the United States.
Bringing medicines into the US
There are restrictions and prohibitions on the import of certain prescription drugs into the US. The US Department of Homeland Security website contains further information and advice on bringing medicines into the US.
Travelling with children
If a child (under the age of 18) is travelling with only one parent or someone who isn’t a parent or legal guardian, you may be asked to provide certain documents at the border. For further information, see the US Customs and Border Protection website.
Travelling to the US from Cuba
It’s possible to travel to the United States after you’ve been to Cuba. However, you may wish to take supporting documents about the purpose of your trip to Cuba in case you’re questioned by US immigration officials at the port of entry on arrival in the US. If you have any further questions or concerns, contact the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.