US now charges entry fee at the gate

I just discovered that I now have to pay to enter the USA. Just like when entering Disney Land. But cheaper.

I am planning travel to the US again soon, and have been going through the paper work. For a very long time, travellers who entered the US on the Visa Waiver programme (i.e. most European countries) had to fill in a famous green form on the plane with some details. Then, at the beginning of last year, the US Customs and Border Protection Agency went modern: The paper forms were replaced with an online registration form collecting roughly the same data. (Well, for about a year we had to fill out both – the online and the paper form, but that’s been phased out now. The paper form is gone.)

Now, my ESTA registration, as it is called, has expired, and I have to apply for a new one. Which I just did. Only this time, it cost me $14.00.

The registration process now starts with this instruction in the first paragraph:

Before you begin this application, make sure that you have a valid passport and credit card available.

On the next page, it explains the interestingly named Travel Promotion Act (TPA) of 2009:

The Act directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a fee for the use of the ESTA system, comprised of $10.00 for each VWP applicant receiving authorization to travel to the United States and $4.00 for the processing of the ESTA application. Applicants who are denied authorization to travel to the U.S. under the VWP will only be charged $4.00.

So, they are charging me four bucks for the pleasure of using a web form. And then a $10 entry fee if they decide to let me in. And I thought the point of using web interfaces to collect information was intended to make the process cheaper

And we have to be careful in filling it in, too:

If information is entered incorrectly, the applicant may be charged additional fees to reapply.

I am not quite sure whether I should be annoyed at having to pay to cross a border into a country where I don’t require a visa (and having to pay for using a few hundred milliseconds of processor time on a web server!), or whether I should be happy to get all the delights of such a big country for only 10 dollars…