As you all now know. Calvin and I are planning another trip to America. Since we are New Zealander’s we do not need to apply for a visa, as such; just an ESTA. Today’s post is all about how you can easily be ripped off when you are not looking for the correct place or unsure where the correct place is to go to!
Since the USA and New Zealand governments have a program in place that allows their citizens to travel within each other’s country’s for a set number of days (I think it’s something like 90 days). Calvin and I only need to sort out ESTA’s for our USA trip (ESTA – stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Pretty much an ESTA is just each other’s governments collecting taxes from each other’s countries visitors and then calling it something else. You can’t get around it – you just have to get over it and pay – or don’t travel (which isn’t an option for me!).
Now, neither of us (Calvin nor myself) are new to the ESTA process – the current ESTA (I applied for the other night) is actually our third one. With this in mind, you would think I would just head to the website that I have used twice before – right? Wrong – come on its ME! When do I do anything the easy way. NOOOOOO I haven’t added the website to my fav’s. NOOOOOO I haven’t even noted the website down or even the name of the department anywhere (electronic or otherwise). Why do I need to or want to – right?!? You know I can always just Google it? Here’s where the story becomes funny, well, I shouldn’t say funny. More lucky than funny. Now this post is for everyone out there that is new to the whole ESTA applying progress, or even if your aren’t – you maybe overpaying for your ESTA because your not applying from the direct site. Either way this post might come in handy for your next ESTA or simply because you like reading about when I mess up.
Anyway as usual, for this trip as like most other trips I sort all the paperwork – only fitting really, since generally most of the trips are my idea. And really, compared to Calvin, I have more time on my hands. PLUS, when it comes down to it, I actually enjoy the planning stages just as much as the trip itself! SOOOOOO, as I was just about to purchase our tickets to LAX, a little pop up appeared (kindly from Air New Zealand). This pop up asked me “Do you have your visa before purchasing?”. Since I had the passport wallet next to me; I decided to have a quick lookie to see if our ESTA’s were still current (they last 2 years). BUGGER – both ESTA’s had expired last September. Since I knew the process took only minutes AND since neither of us had issues before – I decided it was silly to not sort our ESTA’s out. Heck – you never know, the USA government might not what us back??!! And since I know it was cheap fast and east to sort it really was silly not too and really unwise to shell out a stack of (Calvin’s) cash before confirming we had travel approvals. So off I went to sort out new ESTA’s.
As I said before having done this online twice before – I wasn’t worried about the whole process and I knew it was only going to take a few short minutes. Then I could freely hit that magic money disappearing button , the one that would email tickets to LAX once pushed. So off I go and I open another page – googled “USA ESTA”. I don’t know if I was just on one of those ticket buying highs or simply lazy. But I hit the very first search result that Google handed out. Site looked pretty much the same as the one I used the last time. Even asked all the same questions. You know, what is your name? Have you been to prison? Blah blah Blah Blah. Anyway, after filling out page after page of my personal details – I finally get to the one that counts – the payment page. Yet again filled in all my details including my credit card information. Just as I was about to hit click – again a little pop up – popped up. “Please be aware before making payment that this is a private site applying on your behalf for $87USD”. HELL NO! Not when I brought the last TWO ESTA’s for $14USD p/p. Clicked off that site within seconds!!! Back to Google I go…
This time I search for “ESTA from Department of Homeland” – BANG first off the rank. The correct direct site to apply for our ESTA’s – and still only $14USD p/p. Why go to third party sites, where you have to input the exact same information and be over charged for it! You are doing all the work, why are other sites charging so much? Really both sites asked the exact same questions in the exact same order – so much so, the first site looked as if it was like a copy and paste job.
Moral of the story, if you are planning on travelling to the USA and need a new or renewed ESTA this is the place to go Department of Homeland Security. I decided to post my little tale, because I have since chatted to a few fellow Kiwi’s travellers (Kiwi is acceptable slang for a New Zealander aka me). Out of everyone that I chatted too, only one other kiwi knew about applying for an ESTA directly. Technically that one that knew, only knew because before their trip they called me and I let them know about it LOL. The 7 others either applied via their travel agent (which I don’t use) or used various private online sites. The costs ranged from the $87 which was what I was nearly charged to a whooping $253 (which is one of the reasons I don’t use travel agents btw). Don’t know about you, but if I can get something for less without lowering the value – I DO.
Anyway – it all worked out in the end. Now I/we have renewed our ESTA’s; now valid until 2018. MORE importantly I have our tickets to LAX (our starting point for this trip). Hope that this post helps you – even if just a place you know that has the link to the direct site (see its noted down now lol). If you have any tips like this – drop them in the comments or link to your posts so we can read them. It’s all about sharing the knowledge.