The US immigration service and customs
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the American government institution responsible for both the checking of persons as well as goods travelling in and out of the country. It is part of Homeland Security and is authorized to issue ESTA travel authorisations.
U.S. Customs & Border Protection
Whereas most countries have both a customs as well as an immigration service, in the US these two have been joined together under U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Immigration and customs both fall under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and are performed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This means that U.S. Customs and Border Protection handles all matters surrounding the issuing of ESTA travel authorisations, as well as import and export taxes. The issuing of visas (unlike the ESTA) does not fall under the responsibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection; this falls under the authority of the consulates and embassies.
All ESTA application are assessed in the USA
The issuing of an ESTA happens on the basis of an assessment of each individual traveller, which is done in the USA by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Because the application procedure happens entirely online, the ESTA can be applied for directly from the government website. However, it is not possible to ask for help from an American consulate or embassy.
Help with application
Travellers that have a question about the application form, or are not sure if the ESTA fits with their travel plans, will not have anyone to talk to at an American embassy or consulate. The phone number on the website of the consulate and the embassy forwards to a pre-recorded tape which explains that everything can be solved online. Travellers that still cannnot figure it out can make use of a visa bureau, which functions as an intermediary.
Commercial visa bureaus
Visa bureaus, including e-visa.co.uk, are often available 24/7 by phone, to help with urgent or complicated questions and problems. Visa bureaus also help with preventing often made mistakes when filling out the ESTA form. Spelling mistakes, for example, can lead to serious trouble; a visa bureau will track down these kinds of mistakes and correct them, so that the ESTA application can still be processed. Finally, most visa bureaus offer various ways to pay for an application. On the website of U.S. Customs and Border Protection you can only pay with credit card, while visa bureaus offer various other (local) payment methods. To support this, applying through a visa bureau is more expensive than applying straight from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is up to the traveller to decide whether it is worth it.