If you intend intend to travel to the USA by air or sea, you’ll need to apply online for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) visa.
The ESTA visa costs $14, but you could pay more than $100 if applying on some websites. For example, if you use the Esta Visa Online website, an ESTA application will cost you $140!
You should always apply through the official ESTA website managed by the US Customs and Border Protection. This is listed under Quick Links in the left sidebar of this site.
If you are an EU citizen travelling in Europe you should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance) card. We strongly advised this in a posting earlier this year: Safety Tips for Senior Travellers.
The EHIC card is free of charge but you could pay £20 or more if applying on some websites. For example, if you use the EHIC Online Application, an EHIC application costs £49.
You should always apply through the national official EHIC websites. In the case of the UK, the official EHIC site is managed by the NHS. This is listed under Quick Links in the left sidebar of this site.
The unofficial websites that charge over the odds are sometimes referred to as ‘copycat’ or ‘shyster’ sites. They are not illegal as you are paying for the ‘service’ they provide. But, of course, you don’t really need their service!
Try a Google search for ‘ESTA’ or ‘EHIC’ and along with the official sites, you will come across many of these shyster sites with very official looking names and appearance.
Google does appear to have been tightening up on the situation, in that shyster sites are now not the first result in a search, unlike when I applied for an ESTA a couple of years ago and was almost scammed out of $80.
New Ploy by Shyster Sites
Over the past couple of weeks, Senior Travel Expert has received offers by email from very respectable sounding individuals offering to provide articles for this site, or to pay for an article to be written, provided just one link is added. And the link turns out to be an ESTA shyster site with ‘service’ fees of over $100.
The idea is to use well established sites like Senior Travel Expert to give an air of respectability to their scams. You may rest assured such articles will never appear on this site, but take care when looking at other travel sites.
Other Shyster Sites
Of course shyster sites don’t just target ESTA and EHIC applications. Take care also when applying online for other visas, such as the official Australian eVisitor visa (shyster sites are listed first in a Google search), and even when purchasing airline tickets.
Our Photo Editor, Snapper John, recently was almost caught out when booking tickets with Ryanair. A Google search gave as the first result a website that looked like Ryanair, but turned out to be an agency which charged a service fee of about £30.
Footnote: An ESTA visa is not acceptable when entering the USA by land, as I found out earlier this year when travelling by car from Vancouver to Seattle. See: Seattle and Snoqualmie – Round the World in 30 Days.