You have officially decided to travel to the USA, but before you book your flight, you need to do one thing: apply for an ESTA. Without one, you won’t be able to get on a plane to the U.S.So you’re probably wondering, what is ESTA? Am I eligible? Why do I need it? And how do I apply for it? Well, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about ESTA and how to apply, so you can start planning your trip to the US.
What is ESTA?
The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is an online system used to determine if you are eligible to travel to the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens or nationals of 38 countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days for tourism or business. However, travellers must first obtain an approved ESTA.
What is the difference between an ESTA and a visa?
The ESTA is not a visa. Rather, it’s an approved travel authorisation that allows you to travel to the US without a visa if you are a citizen or national of one of the 38 countries enrolled in the VWP. If your country is not part of the VWP, or if you plan to spend more than 90 days on US soil, you will need to apply for an appropriate visa, as the ESTA is not sufficient. For more information on the type of visa you may need, visit the US Department of State website.
Who can apply for an ESTA?
You plan to travel to the United States for 90 days or less for pleasure, business, or transit.
You’re arriving by air or sea (you don’t need an ESTA if you’re arriving by land, but you’ll need to fill out a paper I-94W form at the border).
You are a citizen or eligible national of a Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) country.
How do I apply for ESTA?
The only way to apply for ESTA is online via the official ESTA website. The application is straightforward and takes approximately twenty minutes to complete if you have all the necessary information to apply. It’s a good idea to apply before you book your flight and no later than 72 hours before you leave for the U.S. If you don’t have an approved ESTA, you’ll be turned away at airport check-in.
What you’ll need to apply for an ESTA
A valid passport from a Visa Waiver Programme country
A valid credit card (MasterCard, VISA, American Express and Discover) or PayPal to pay the $14 USD application fee.
Address where you will be staying and your US contact person
Employment information (if applicable)
How much does the ESTA application cost?
An approved ESTA application costs $14 USD per person, while a denied ESTA application costs $4 USD, both of which can be paid by credit card or PayPal. These are the official prices at the time of writing; if you choose to go through a travel agent or third party, you will likely pay more.
How long does the ESTA process take?
Although the application process only takes about 20 minutes to complete, it can take up to 72 hours to receive a decision on your application. You can check the status on the official ESTA website using the ESTA application number you’ll receive after completing the application. Your ESTA application status will have one of three responses:
Authorisation approved: You’re authorised to travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme.
Not authorised to travel: Unfortunately, you’re not authorised to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
Authorisation Pending: Your application will take a little longer to process, but a decision is usually made within 72 hours.
What happens if my ESTA application is not approved?
If your application is denied, it doesn’t mean you’ve been denied entry to the United States, but it does mean that you will not be able to travel to the United States without a visa and will need to apply for a visitor’s visa. Unlike the ESTA, a visa is a much more complex and expensive application process that requires an in-person interview at a US embassy or consulate. Visa applications are not available online.
How long is my ESTA valid?
Once your ESTA application is approved, it is valid for two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. With a valid ESTA, you can visit the USA as often as you like, as long as each trip doesn’t exceed 90 days. There’s no set time limit on how long you must wait between visits, but you’ll want to put some time between visits so that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers don’t think you’re trying to live in the US, as they have the right to deny you entry.
Does an ESTA approval guarantee entry to the USA?
Your ESTA approval is proof that you’re eligible to travel to the US without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program, but it does not guarantee you entry to the US. Your entry into the US is at the discretion of CBP officers. When you land in the U.S., a CBP officer will inspect you and determine whether or not you are admissible, regardless of whether you have an approved ESTA.
Can I renew my ESTA?
There is no way to renew your ESTA, once your ESTA has expired or you’ve renewed your passport, you will need to re-apply for a new ESTA via the official ESTA website.
These are the basic facts about the US Visa Waiver Program and ESTA, now you should be ready to complete your ESTA application and plan your visit to the US!