The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an initiative of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) of the United States. It is an automated system that is used to decide if applicants who wish to travel to the US are eligible to do so. With every application, the ESTA collates biodata as well as the responses to eligibility questions asked by VWP.
Although an ESTA application can be submitted at any time before scheduled travel dates, it is usually recommended that travelers submit their applications as soon as they start making plans for their trip to the US or at least before buying tickets from an airline.
Bear in mind that receiving the ESTA to travel to the United States does not necessarily mean you will be permitted to enter the United States. Admissibility is usually decided upon the arrival of the traveler on US soil by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.
But before you start worrying about how to apply for US ESTA let us explain to you some basic information about what the Electronic System for Travel Authorization is, who needs it, the cost of an ESTA and how long does it take to be processed.
Who needs an ESTA to travel to the US?
Typically, foreign citizens who wish to travel to the United States need to apply for and receive visas to do so. However, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) was set up to enable the citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States either for business or tourism purposes (similar to a visitor’s visa) for up to ninety days without having to apply for a visa. A citizen of a country that is a member of the VWP, therefore, would need to get an ESTA to travel to the United States.
A citizen of a VWP member country who has not secured a valid ESTA for travel to the US will not be permitted to check-in on any flight, cruise ship, or ferry service that is bound for the USA. This rule also applies to children who are citizens of VWP member countries. The only travelers that are allowed to travel to the US without possessing ESTA are those coming into the United States via land or who are U.S. citizens.
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How to apply for US ESTA?
ESTA is not a physical document and is applied for on the official online platform. To apply for it, an applicant will need to set aside between 15-20 minutes to put together the necessary documentation for the application, read and understand the questions asked in the form, and to correctly fill out the application. The applicant will also need a fast and reliable internet connection to avoid an application time-out, which would result in the application being restarted.
To apply for a US ESTA visa, the applicant must have a valid electronic passport issued by a member country of the VWP to be eligible to apply. The applicant will be required to provide the number on their passport for confirmation. The applicant will need to give the first and last names of their parents, as well as information for who to contact within or out of the United States, in case of an emergency.
If the applicant is traveling to the United States for business purposes, they will need to give the contact details of the person or organization in the U.S they are dealing with so that the name, telephone number, and address can be verified. The location where the applicant will be staying while in the U.S will also need to be verified and so the applicant will have to send its name and contact details.
If currently employed, the applicant will need to give the name, address, and phone number of their employer for verification. If the applicant has a criminal history, some of those crimes may make them ineligible for an ESTA. Therefore it is a good idea to also have a police report available to be included in the application.
With all the information above, the applicant will be able to submit their application and make payment using major credit or debit cards from the following platforms: VISA, American Express, MasterCard, and Discover. Payment will need to be made within seven days of application submission or the application will expire.
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How much does an ESTA cost?
The ESTA application process is facilitated by different companies, some offer 24/7 customer service, smart application forms, additional payment methods and even refund policy. The cost of obtaining ESTA may vary, depending on the company applied through.
One of the processing companies for ESTA typically charges €29.95 per individual application. This cost is inclusive of all application fees, consular charges, foreign exchange taxes, and service prices. Regardless of the payment method chosen, there are no additional fees to be paid.
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How long does it take to get an ESTA granted?
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated process, therefore the wait time is very short. Some applications get approved within minutes of their submission. However, submissions can take up to seventy-two hours to be approved. Applicants typically receive email or browser notifications once their submissions have received approval.
Normal application and urgent application:
The timing specified above is for normal applications. However, in a situation where an applicant suddenly needs an ESTA to travel within a day, they can apply for an “urgent application”. All they need to do is check the “urgent” option when filling out the application form. By doing that the application will be processed immediately and the applicant should receive an ESTA within a sixty-minute window.
Applying for an urgent ESTA comes at an added cost of €17.50 to the original ESTA cost of €29.95. It should be noted that results may vary, and on some rare occasions when servers are overloaded an urgent application might take up to seventy-two hours.
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How long is an ESTA valid for and can I renew it?
Theoretically, an ESTA has a two-year validity period that begins from the initial date of approval. Applicants will typically receive the expected expiration date of the ESTA via email. An ESTA can, however, expire earlier. This can happen if for some reason it is revoked, or if your passport expires before the expiring date of the ESTA. This is because an active ESTA is tied to a passport and that same passport must always be used for travel to the US.
Remember that, even though an ESTA lasts for two years, holders of ESTA are not permitted to stay in the United States for two years uninterrupted. ESTA requires that holders stay in the United States for a maximum of ninety days per visit.
When an ESTA expires, the holder can and should reapply for a renewal if they still wish to travel to the United States. The renewal application can be sent in before the expiration of an ESTA, but if an ESTA expires while its holder is still in the US, there will be no negative consequences for their departure.
Now you know what an ESTA is, who needs it and how to apply. Check if your passport is eligible and apply today for an ESTA to travel to the US.
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