The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system designed to assess the eligibility of foreigners under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to travel to the United States. Overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, the ESTA application process is entirely online.

The system came into effect on the 20th of January 2009, as a result of increased security regulations. When you commence application for ESTA, the system decides whether you’re eligible for ESTA authorization based on the biographic information you provide and how you answer the stipulated questions.

After completing your ESTA application, you’ll wait for a maximum of 3 days to be informed of your approval status, however, there is a good chance you’ll receive an almost instant response. While it is possible to tender an ESTA application just before you get on your flight, the Customs and Border Protection department (CBP) recommends that you submit your application no later than 72 hours before your travel time.

It is better to heed the advice of the authorities because some carriers will only let you board if you show your authorised ESTA. Another reason you may want to begin the application process way ahead is if your application is denied, you may have to apply for a visa, which takes a long time to process.

Are you eligible to apply?

If you are making plans to travel to the United States and would like to apply for an ESTA visa, ensure you confirm the following before you commence the application process:

  • You have a valid, up-to-date e-passport from a VWP country.
  • You have a valid credit card or PayPal where the cost of the application will be charged.
  • You do not have a valid ESTA visa.
  • You are visiting for no reasons other than business or tourism and you don’t intend to stay for more than 90 days.
  • You do not intend to work during your visit.
  • You do not intend to remain in the United States permanently.

Even as a holder of a valid passport from a VWP country, you may not be eligible to apply if you have dual citizenship with countries stipulated by the 2015 Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. These countries are Syria, Sudan, Iraq, and Iran.

Also barred from entering the USA are citizens of VWP countries who have been present in Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, or Iran from March 1, 2011, with the limited exception of travel for the purpose of military or diplomatic reasons  for a VWP country.

How do you apply for an ETSA?

Once you’re ready to begin the application process, visit the official website of the CBP or a third party and navigate to the application page. The entire application time is no more than 5 minutes and according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), over 99% of applications are approved.

If you would like to apply for members of your family, you have the option of applying as a group under a single transaction. You’ll have to fill individual forms for each person, including minors of any age, with every person being solely responsible for the information submitted on their behalf.

Filling out your application form

To fill out the ESTA application, you’ll be required to provide the following information:

  • Your full name as it appears in your passport.
  • Your date of birth.
  • The address where you are planning to stay during your time in the United States. If you’re not sure yet, you may leave your response as ‘unknown’ and if you’re travelling to the U.S. only to switch planes en route another country, you’ll indicate in the application that you’re visiting for transit.
  • Your credit card details.
  • Your history of deportation or visa revocation, if applicable.
  • Your history of communicable diseases, if applicable.
  • Your history of convictions or arrests, if applicable.

Apart from the above mentioned you’ll have to provide information on your current travel arrangements and answer seven security questions.

Reviewing and submitting your application

After providing all required information and completing your ESTA application, you’ll be allowed to review and check that all the information you have provided is correct. If you’re found to have presented false information, your ESTA will be revoked and you may be barred from entering the United States.

Paying for your ESTA application

You can make payment for your ESTA application using a debit or credit card that’s MasterCard, VISA, American Express, or Discover. If the debit or credit card you use to pay for your ESTA application is in a foreign currency other than U.S dollars, it is expected that your card’s issuer would convert the sum and present payment in U.S. dollars. You should contact your issuing company for details on any applicable surcharges.

Your application will only be submitted for processing when all payment information is received.

Receive your ESTA status

You’ll most likely receive your ESTA status confirmation within a minute or less, otherwise you may have to wait for a maximum of 72 hours to see the status of your application which may be any of the following:

  • Authorization Approved

You have been permitted to travel to the United States, however, you will only be admitted into the country at the discretion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection department at a port of entry.

  • Authorization Pending

You will get final response within 72 hours.

  • Travel Not Authorized

You have not been authorized to travel to the USA and may have to apply for a visa.

Start your application here:

How do I apply for an ESTA VISA?

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