How is My Travel Insurance Affected by the ESTA?

As of January 12th 2009, the US government has made it mandatory for any visitor to the United States from countries under the Visa Waiver Program (such as Australia, Japan and Europe) to complete the I-94W form, as part of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. This has caused problems for some travellers who are not used to the new system and have arrived at their US port of entry expecting to fill in the traditional paper-based form, and promptly being told that they can no longer do so.

Additionally, it seems that a spate of gap year travellers have recently found that once they had returned home and tried to claim for the costs of repatriation on their travel insurance, they have not been able to do so.

This has sparked a series of statements from insurance and travel companies alike highlighting the importance of signing onto the ESTA website and filling out the necessary forms up to 72 hours before departure. This is because if the traveller is refused entry, not only is it unlikely that they will be able to claim back any costs of their flights home, but they won’t be awarded a payout for price of accommodation etc., should they use ignorance as an excuse and not have submitted the correct documentation.

The ESTA has been introduced to make the US safer in a post 9/11 climate but has met some criticism by business travellers used to booking last minute flights. The online form does not differ too much from the traditional original paper version and focuses on questions such as: Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies? And: Have you ever been excluded and deported?

Similar to the need to admit past convictions when purchasing a typical home or car insurance policy, it is also required that convictions concerning moral turpitude and controlled substances be disclosed and may well affect likelihood of entry. Therefore it is advised that travellers who have been convicted in the past should consult a US immigration lawyer before filling in the ESTA.