‘Sorry, Sir, you cannot enter the United States of America’
That sentence will be the worst thing you can hear when you arrive at security and immigration in an airport in USA. You’ve blown your money on a first class ticket across the Atlantic expecting to live it up on the Strip in Vegas, hike across the Yellowstone National Park, party in Miami or search for a failed film career in Hollywood. And you haven’t even crossed onto proper American soil thanks to a blue shirted TSA Agent saying no.
‘But I thought this was the land of the plenty and free? I thought everybody is welcome? Didn’t people see the Statue of Liberty as a beacon of hope as they were processed on Staten Island?’
News flash, guys. You’re in a dingy airport far away from the Golden Age and you’re still being told no. What’s more, the TSA Agent is getting mad.
Believe me, you do not want to get a TSA Agent mad.
Americans abroad will agree with you that TSA Agents gets a bad rep with their bullish attitude and interrogation style techniques to put the Spanish Inquistion to shame. I didn’t quite believe them until I got my own chance to go to the USA myself three years ago.
See More: The Joys of American Immigration
Granted, I was only transferring onto another plane at LAX on my way home from Fiji but I still had to declare myself to be in America seeing as I had to go to a different terminal. I had a 7 hour layover. I thought I could stop off for a quick bite to eat in an American dinner in LA so I could experience this country as a taste.
By the time I was processed through, I only had 3 hours left. I daren’t leave the airport in case there was another round of immigration checks and I would have missed my plane. It took 2 hours to go through immigration. Fair enough, the majority of that was spent queuing, waiting to be seen by the TSA Agent, who promptly asked me confusing questions to ensure my story was legit. He went through my passport, noting the countries I visited on my RTW trip. He paused at my Vietnamese visa. Christ.
Then came another round of questions, which one included asking me for my name. I confess I became tongue-tied. But luckily, I managed to get through. So far, so good. He wasn’t mad. Then I was on my merry way to go home after being checked again by another TSA Agent thanks to a tip that all of us should be taking.
A tip that will let you in the country and more importantly, not to make the TSA Agent mad. I’ll tell you in a minute.
TSA Agents really do get a bad rep but they are forced to. I’ve met some of the loveliest TSA Agents in Las Vegas when I was there on my Trek America trip and after formalities, I was bantering with them especially when one of them heard of my hometown of Hull.
They have a duty to keep their borders safe and that sometimes mean being a tough and in-your-face authoritative ass at the best of times. You have to respect their badge. I almost became a wide-eyed blithering mess on my second arrival when a roving TSA agent ripped into me for checking my mobile phone while I waited to be seen by immigration. At first, I was annoyed and muttered to myself darkly ‘Welcome to America’ and thanked for giving me a bad first impression of the country.
But he was right. I shouldn’t have taken out my phone.
So, once I was seen by a TSA Agent for the reason for my second visit to USA, the process was extremely quick, thanks to this great tip that had the TSA (Shock and Horror) smiling at me.
This is my tip.
I came with an up to date ESTA Visa.
They will love you if you turn up with one. Trust me, it’s mandatory if you’re visiting the United States of America.
I remember when I had to help out a fellow traveller in need just as we were checking in at Fiji to fly to LAX. He didn’t fill out an USA Visa Waiver before he arrived at the airport and he had to electronically apply for one otherwise he just wasn’t getting on that plane. He could, but he’ll have to pay for a flight back to Fiji. So, with only an hour before boarding, I helped him apply for one on a VERY slow Internet Cafe machine and we crossed our fingers that it would be accepted within the next few minutes after sending it through. Luckily, it was.
Otherwise there would be a very mad TSA Agent waiting for him.
So what is an ESTA?
An ESTA is an abbreviation of ‘Electronic System for Travel Authorization’ which requires all participating travellers for the Visa Waiver Programme Countries (of which the UK is on ) that determines if the visitor is eligible. However, it doesn’t mean that the ESTA deems you admissible. That decision lies in the TSA Agent’s ball court.
So that’s why you have to turn up with an ESTA Visa Waiver. If you don’t, let’s say it together:
The TSA Agent will get mad.
Got a question about your ESTA Visa? Follow this link here: Application ESTA Page