If you are planning to travel to the United States of America and you are not a US citizen, you are required to obtain some form of travel authorization. Many people travel to the United States using a visa relevant to the purpose of their travel, for example, a student visa or a working visa. However, for citizens of countries that are members of the Visa Waiver Program, apply for ESTA is an easier alternative to obtaining a visa.
What is an ESTA?
ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation and it is part of the visa waiver agreement with countries within the Visa Waiver Program. It was established so that it was easier for citizens of the agreed countries could visit the US for business or tourism purposes, whilst still ensuring the US government could monitor who is entering the US and assess the risk of any visitors before they reach the US.
Who can use ESTA to visit the US?
Citizens from any of the 39 countries that are included in the Visa Waiver Program are able to apply for the ESTA. However, their ESTA may not necessarily be approved if they do not match the required criteria for an ESTA. The purpose of travel must be either business, tourism, medical or transit and must not be for a stay of longer than 90 days. Anyone who wants to study or work in the US would need to apply for a student or working visa instead, as ESTA will not be adequate for those purposes.
The ESTA applicant must have a valid biometric passport when they apply for their ESTA, which the ESTA will then be electronically linked to. A travel authorization is required for any non US citizen arriving in the US by air, sea or land.
How to apply for ESTA?
Applying for the ESTA is very quick and straightforward. You simply must complete the online ESTA application at estaform.org and provide all of the required information. Filling in the ESTA form will take around 20 minutes and it is important to check all of the information you provide is correct, as any errors could result in the ESTA getting refused.
The application requires your first and last name, DOB, passport details and parents’ names. You will also be asked to provide employment details and you will need to answer a set of eligibility questions. These include questions related to any criminal history and also some questions regarding medical conditions. If the answers to any of these questions is Yes, then it is likely that the ESTA will get declined. The Department of Homeland Security will perform background checks to ensure that the information provided is correct.
Once you complete the form and check through all of the details to make sure there are no mistakes, you pay for the application fee using an electronic payment card.
How long does the ESTA process take?
Usually, you will receive an email confirmation that your ESTA has been approved within just a few hours or even minutes in some cases. It can take longer than this and applicants are advised to apply for their ESTA a minimum of 72 hours prior to their intended travel date to ensure the application gets processed on time. Occasionally, there may be some delays with the processing time, for example, if there is a technical error, so if you can apply a few weeks before you need your ESTA then that is advised to give you peace of mind you will have your ESTA approved on time.
How many times can you use an ESTA?
One of the major benefits of using an ESTA is that it is valid for two years (or until your passport expires if that is sooner) and within that time you are able to use the ESTA multiple times, for different visits to the US. As long as you do not stay in the US for longer than 90 days on one visit, you can make repeat US trips using the same ESTA. When your ESTA or your passport expires, you can apply for a new ESTA, following the same process for your next trip to the US.
What happens if my ESTA is refused?
If you receive an email that states your ESTA has been denied then you might still be able to resubmit another ESTA application, provided that the denial was due to an error on the original application. If the ESTA was refused for another reason, then you may be able to visit the US by applying for a tourist visa instead, or another type of visa that may be applicable to your purpose for visiting the US.
The ESTA application process is fast and easy, so you can start planning your future trip to any part of the US.
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