Let me say at the start that this is in no way a rant about the ‘System’, but rather advice for non-US citizens planning a cruise which calls at a port in the United States.
To enter the United States, you need a visa … or, an ESTA … the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. You can apply for this online, at https://esta/cbp.dhs.gov In England, it costs £14, and it would be easy to think that spending that amount for a four-hour excursion wasn’t really worth it, and you’d stay on the ship.
But, it doesn’t work like that … you still need ESTA!! The reason is, on arrival at Miami, whether disembarking, going on an excursion or just remaining aboard, you MUST get off the ship and go through the formalities, while the authorities ‘clear’ the ship.
And, you need to print out the confirmation. Several people got caught out here, for nowhere in the documentation received from the cruise line or the State Department did it specifically state this … or if it did, it’s buried deep in the small print somewhere. But, I printed it out anyway, but not everyone did. So, there was quite a scramble for printers before boarding in Guadeloupe. One lady was even refused permission to board the cruise because she couldn’t get a printout in time.
In actual fact, the immigration procedure was not the hassle I’d feared; we passed through fairly painlessly. But, when we returned from our excursion, we had to wait 45 minutes before being allowed to re-board the ship, for the authorities were still ‘clearing’ it.
Bottom line … Get that ESTA and print it out. And, I have to say, the airboat ride through the Everglades to see the alligators made it well worth it!