No. Owning a Visa permits a foreigner to travel to the U.S. to reside there permanently or for the period that the Visa specifies. You, therefore, do not require applying an ESTA as long as you have a valid Visa. ESTA in full stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization and sometimes people confuse it with a visa.
You can travel to the US using a cruise ship or flight for a maximum of 90 days either for holiday or business if you have an ESTA. Citizens from 38 selected countries enjoy better terms under the US Visa Waiver Program, abbreviated as WVP. If you are a citizen of any of the VWP countries, you do not require an ESTA for you to travel to the US by road from either Canada or Mexico.
You can apply for an ESTA if you are citizen of any of the following 38 countries;
Austria, Australia, Brunei, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Denmark, France, Finland, Greece, Germany, Iceland, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Japan, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Malta, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Monaco, Norway, New Zealand, San Marino, Portugal, Slovakia, Singapore, South Korea, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Andorra and Chile.
An ESTA holder can visit the US several times within its validity period of a maximum of two years, provided that he/she does exceed the allowed time which is 90 days. The US immigration department will not grant you an ESTA even if you are a citizen of VWP countries as long as you hold dual citizenship in countries like Sudan, Syria, Iraq or Iran or you have visited Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Sudan or Iran from March 2011.
What are the differences between a visa and an ESTA?
A visa works like a pass for foreigners who want to visit the US. An ESTA, on the other hand, acts as a waiver which allows citizens from VWP countries to visit the US either for business or holiday for a maximum of 90 days. You are not required to obtain a visa if you already own an ESTA.
There are several types of US’s visas which foreigners get after successful application and passing an interview at US embassy in their home country. Some of the most popular visas are for vacation purposes and work which fall under the B2 tourist visa and B1 work visa respectively. The validity of the visa varies according to type and most fall in between one to six months. Visa holders can thus not make multiple visits to the US once it expires. Such a holder will have to reapply for a new visa after the expiry if he/she wants to visit the US again.
It is easier to get an ESTA than a visa because the entire process is online based while visa requires face-to-face interview which is somehow involving. You can do such interviews either with a consulate in your country or at the US embassy.
How strict is the process of acquiring an ESTA?
The process is somehow strict because the US government suspended the Visa Interview Waiver Program from January 2017. You must now do a face-to-face interview with an assigned US consular officer when applying for an ESTA. The same will be required when reapplying after the expiry of the 90 days.
Basic requirements for ESTA application
Citizens from VWP countries must provide the following documents and meet these terms when applying for an ESTA
- Current and valid e-Passport. This document is a secure and advanced electronic passport that comes with an electronic chip. This passport has a unique international symbol on its cover.
- Enter your basic bio data which includes your date of birth, name, gender and any other important information.
- Affirm that you will not exceed your allowed stay of 90 days, and that trip is purely for business or tourism.
- Affirm that you have never been arrested for any crime or even convicted either in your home country or foreign land.
- You should not have a current and valid ESTA during the time of application.
- You should show proof that you do not suffer from any communicable disease.
- Proof that none of your visas has ever been revoked in the past.
- Proof that you have enough finances to sustain you during the entire visit. This requirement holds regardless of whether you intend to stay with friends or family in the US.
Are there other visa options apart from a visitor’s visa and an ESTA?
Yes. There are many categories of visas depending on the mission of the applicant. The two main categories are;
- Temporary/ non-immigrant visas. Just as the name suggests, foreigners acquire these visas for a given period to accomplish certain tasks. Some of the common ones are for work, study and holiday purposes.
- Permanent Residency or Immigrant Visas
Issued to foreigners who want to work and live permanently in the US. Famously known as a Green Card, this visa is processed at the point of entry after a successful application. The Green Card holder becomes a permanent resident who has legal rights to work and live in the US.
You should however not confuse a Green Card holder with a citizen. A Green Card holder can apply to become a citizen after five years from the date of issuance.
Are there other visa exemption programs run by the US government on top of VWP?
There are several other visa exemption programs for different regions and countries. Some of the most famous are;
- Citizens of Canada can apply for NAFTA Professional at their point of entry.
- Citizens from the British Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Caicos Islands, Turks, and Cayman also have some exemptions under certain conditions.
- Citizens from the states that form the Compact of Free Association which include the Marshall, Islands, Palau and Micronesia also enjoy some special treatment.