ESTA is the abbreviated form of Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. The ESTA processing is 100% online. The procedure has been significantly simplified by the authorities in charge in order to avoid processing paper applications. After your ESTA application has been completed, it is sent electronically through the US Department of Home Security website https://ESTA.cbp.dhs.gov/ESTA to the US authorities responsible for validating it. They then decide whether or not to approve or revoke your entry. Whatever decision they make is registered in their database.
Your ESTA application and subsequent authorisation is associated with your passport number, which is quickly recognised immediately you present your passport at the border to be checked. Printing your ESTA visa therefore is not necessary simply because it is usually forwarded to your carrier.
On the other hand, printing your ESTA visa is advised for different reasons. Firstly, no other official document will be sent to you as confirmation of your visa, your printed ESTA is your only physical evidence. Certain carriers may insist on seeing a printed copy of your authorisation form.
However, it is not stipulated anywhere in the VWP regulation that a printed copy of ESTA must be presented before you are allowed to travel.
I am a citizen of a VWP country. Do I automatically qualify for an ESTA?
Citizens of VWP countries still have to be qualified. The current VWP regulations disqualify citizens of VWP countries from applying for ESTA if they fall under the following categories:
- Citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan in addition to VWP country citizenship
- Have travelled to Iraq, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia or Yemen since March 1, 2011.
As a qualified citizen of a VWP country, will I gain entry into the US with an ESTA alone?
Even as a qualified citizen of a VWP country, you are not guaranteed instant entry into the US. Certain security checks have to be passed with the US Customs and Border Protection Officers upon your arrival into the country.
What determines my qualification for an ESTA?
You are qualified for ESTA authorisation if you are a recognised citizen of any of the 38 registered countries participating in the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP)
The 38 eligible countries are:
Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Australia, Austria, Belgium, Korea, Spain, Sweden, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, France, Germany, Greece, Monaco, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
ESTA Application Procedure
Application for ESTA can be done online via https://ESTA.cbp.dhs.gov/ESTA, which is the US website for the Department of Home Security or at a third party site like www.esta-approval.com
The next step after your ESTA application approval, is to undergo a face-to-face interview in your country with a US Consular officer.
All this to comply with the recent changes in the VWP rules in which the Visa Interview Waiver Program was suspended.
Is there a processing fee required for an ESTA Visa?
Yes, there is. The travel promotion act of 2009 requires the payment of ESTA application fee.
However, if your ESTA application is denied o revoked, only the fee for application processing is collected.
An important note here is that if you employ the services of a third party or an agent for your ESTA application, extra charges may be incurred for their service.
Are there any other requirements I need to prepare?
The ESTA authorisation process is all-encompassing of all the necessary requirements. It is helpful however to sustain the exactness and accuracy of all the answers provided in the ESTA application form. Information such as:
- Your full names
- Valid e-passport
- Statement of health
- Police report
Any inconsistency in the information will require a new ESTA application. Also, in cases where such updates are as a result of changes in your health or criminal status, another visa category might be required, indicating your change in circumstances, for you to gain admission into the US, instead of ESTA.
How long does it take to get a response to an ESTA application?
Generally, it is possible to receive a response to an ESTA authorisation request in as little as a few minutes after the form is completed and submitted. In some cases however, the process takes a longer time, possibly 72 hours.
ESTA authorisation responses come in one of three ways; successful, pending or denied. A pending response should not cause you to panic, simply return after some hours to check again for an updated status. A denied application on the other hand, would require you go to the US Embassy or Consulate to apply for a visitor visa in your home country.
Will one ESTA authorisation cover my whole family or will each person need a personal ESTA in order to travel to the US?
ESTA can be applied by an individual or by a group of persons.
A group ESTA application requires everyone, no matter the age, to secure their own ESTA authorisation and to ensure that the information provided is consistently accurate.
How does an ESTA differ from a Green Card?
The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) gets mistaken for the US Visitor Visa. This is incorrect. There are significant differences between both.
- ESTA is only used by Visa Waiver travellers while a US Visitors’ Visa is necessary for other visitors entering into the US who are not from VWP member countries
- ESTA is a web-based application system where the qualified individuals can apply for authorisation for themselves, while the US visitor visa process involves a lot of steps and is equally more expensive.
- A holder of an approved ESTA is permitted to visit the US for a maximum duration of two years while a US visitor’s visa holder has the right to legally and permanently live and work in the US (this visa is renewable after 10 years)