Rip off when applying for the ESTA entry form

For anyone who has flown to the US in recent years, the ESTA form is certainly a household name. ESTA means “electronic system for travel authorization”. It must be requested in advance on the side of the US government and costs 14 US dollar. The purpose behind this is an advanced security clearance, which requires a lot of data to be compromised. Next, the questions below must be answered. People who need a visa anyway (due to their nationality, for example) do not need an ESTA form.

In Switzerland and other European countries, there are several providers that offer the ESTA form for a premium above the official price. Among the best known of these providers are esta.ch and esta-schweiz.ch. These sites have even better rankings on Google than the government’s official ESTA site. The cancelled.ch team has already been contacted several times by people who feel ripped off by these pages. These service providers actually organize the said form, but they charge $ 84, which is exactly six times(!) the official price. For a family of four, this would mean, for example, an additional burden on the travel budget of around CHF 328.00. The vendors defend their service by promising to provide assistance when needed in completing the—from our point of view—self-explanatory form.

Basically—and we would like to emphasize that here—this should not be of any relevance under criminal law. The providers expressly state that they are in “no relation to the government of the United States of America”. It has also been hinted in the past that there are official contacts with the US authorities in Washington (see SRF Espresso contribution of 13 March 2013).

The transparency of these service providers is questionable. The search of cancelled.ch has shown that both sides belong to the same company. The following address is stated in the imprint: Premium Travel Inc, Office 122, 268 Belsize Rd, NW6 4BT, London, UK. At that address is the following rather modest house (source: Google Street View):

And also, with Whois queries you cannot find much information. Behind both companies are Domains By Proxy, LLC. This is a company that can disguise your identity. So, who is really behind the websites, you cannot find out.

After what has just been presented, one has to ask oneself whether the imprint obligation applicable in Switzerland is respected or whether one cannot speak of a kind of right-hander.

Everyone is free to make their own judgement about these service providers. However, cancelled.ch recommends applying for ESTA entry forms exclusively through the official website of the US government.


 

Questions to be answered for ESTA application

  • “suffer from a physical or mental affliction; do you abuse drugs or are you addicted to drugs; or are currently suffering from any of the following diseases (infectious diseases are defined under section 361 (b) of the Public Health Service Act): cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis (contagious), plague, smallpox, yellow fever, viral haemorrhagic fever (including Ebola, Lassa , Marburg, Crimean Congo fever), Acute Respiratory Diseases (which are transmissible to others and are likely to be fatal).”
  • “Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime that has caused serious property damage or serious harm to other people or government agencies?”
  • “Have you ever committed violations of the law relating to the possession or use or distribution of illegal drugs?”
  • “Do you aspire to participate in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage or genocide, or have you ever participated in such activities?”
  • “Have you ever committed any fraudulent activity or have you misrepresented yourself to others in order to obtain a visa or entry to the United States, or have you helped others?”
  • “Currently trying to get work in the United States or have you ever been without the prior permission of the U.S.. Government hired in the United States?”
  • „Have you ever been given a U.S. Refused a visa that you have applied for with your current or former passport, or have you ever been denied access to the United States, or your application for access to a U.S. Place of departure withdrawn?“
  • „Are you ever longer than yours from the U.S. Government granted residence in the United States? “
  • „Did you travel to or from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on or since March 1, 2011, or were you there?“

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