Guest Post by Josh Hobson
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to travel to the United States. Let’s face it, elements of the US are everywhere we look. We’ve been influenced by the United States in the United Kingdom for a while. In the last decade, the influence has grown somewhat with the rise of the Internet. However, when I was a child, Americans would be on the TV and movies. Their products have been on our shelves, in the supermarket or through technology. Their culture has rubbed off on me and I liked it. I wanted to go there, and experience it for myself.
Rewind to Autumn ’15. I had the chance of a lifetime spring toward me like a cannon shot. An email popped up in my inbox. “Would you like to work at a summer camp in the US over the summer?” Of course, I thought. That’s sick. Sign me up. What they don’t tell you about these programmes: there are a lot of boring meetings that you have to attend in order to actually be able to go. They’re more like team bonding sessions. Either way, worth it to be able to go to the US.
So the deal of these programmes are as followed, you go there for three months on a J-1 Visa, you’re allowed a 30 day grace period for travelling after the visa expires. However, what they neglect to tell you: if you leave the country during your 30 day grace period, you cannot re-enter the country. But, more on this later.
Anyhow, I arrived in the US and turned up to a summer camp. Luckily, I have the opportunity to work in a day camp. Unlike conventional and more common camps, the kids would arrive in the morning and then leave again in the evening. They never came to camp on weekends either. I hit the jackpot here. On Saturdays, the international staff would clean the camp from the previous week’s antics. From Saturday afternoon until Sunday night, the time was our own. Together, we used this time to travel to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C and New York City.
The real fun started after camp though. A couple of the international guys decided that we would travel together to the West coast, with a short trip to Chicago lined up just before. By the way, if you’re ever in the US, go to Chicago. WHAT A CITY! I digress, so the guys and I flew to San Francisco, drove to Yosemite, then on to LA and San Diego respectively. The plan from San Diego was to travel to Las Vegas, but we enjoyed San Diego so much (and we were exhausted), so we decided to stay in San Diego for 5 days. We cancelled our Las Vegas trip and booked flights back to New York at the end of the week to fly home.
Back to the whole visa debacle. So whilst in San Diego, our hostel offered a free trip to Mexico. Obviously, we jumped at the chance. Another country off the bucket list and more importantly, it was free! We neglected the fact that we would arrive in Mexico without a way back into the country because our grace period would have ended as soon as we crossed the border.
We arrived in Mexico at the hotel and a light went off in one of the lad’s heads. “How are we supposed to get back into the US now? We’ve not got a visa, it’ll have expired?!” We panicked frantically.
Not going to lie, this was a low point of the whole summer. We met up with the manager of our hostel. “Mate, what do we do? We’ve not got a visa to get back into the country.” Within a matter of seconds, he looked at us and laughed… “ESTA,” he said.
None of us knew what he was on about. Apply for an ESTA now, and you’ll be okay to get back into the US in the next couple of days. We were straight on the Internet, researching about ESTA, although the Internet connection wasn’t amazing, we found the information we were looking for.
ESTA basically allows citizens of 38 countries access to the United States without a visa. With the ESTA, the holder can enter the US for up to 90 days per trip. The ESTA application is completed online and takes around 30 minutes to complete. Official advice recommends that applications should be submitted 72 hours prior to leaving, but most applications are granted within minutes of application. The real beauty of this… it only cost $14.
Can you imagine the sheer relief? That was systematically one of the high points of the whole trip. After applying for our ESTA, we logged onto the official site to check our authorisation status, and sure enough, we had all been granted access. We actually submitted the application as one group. Which was quite convenient.
In the following days, we crossed back into the United States, showing our passports (electronic), and we were waved through. No hassle.
The aim of this post was to prepare anyone that’s thinking of travelling to the US in the future. Don’t make the same mistake I and all of my friends did. Apply for your ESTA before the trip!