ESTA, which stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, is a permit to travel to the US. It is issued by the US to qualified citizens from 38 named countries participating in the US Visa Waiver Program after they have successfully applied and have gotten approved.With an ESTA, the holder can visit the US via air or sea for 90 days at a time in order to conduct business or enjoy a holiday. An approved ESTA is valid only for two years, or until the expiration of the holder’s passport.
Am I Eligible for an ESTA?
If you are a citizen of any of the 38 countries registered under the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), then you are eligible to apply for an ESTA. Only qualified citizens from the 38 countries can apply for an ESTA. The countries under VWP whose citizens can freely apply are:
Ireland, San Marino, Slovenia, South Korea, Hungary, Iceland, Brunei, Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Does an ESTA allow me to visit the US without a Visa?
Yes. Possessing ESTA means you are authorised to travel to the US for either business or pleasure for a 90 day period. Therefore, you do not need a visa in addition to your ESTA before you can visit the US.
All foreign citizens are required by US law to have a visa in order to enter the US. However, citizens of VWP countries are exempted from this legislation.
However, certain citizens from VWP countries are unqualified for ESTA and are required to apply for a visa in their local US embassies before they can travel to the US.
Does being a citizen of a VWP country qualify me automatically for the ESTA?
No, there are no automatic qualifications. An individual has to be a qualified citizen first, in order to be eligible for an ESTA. The recent changes by the US government provides certain criteria that serve as benchmarks to determine qualification for an ESTA for citizens of VWP countries:
- You must not hold citizenship status in Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan
- You must not have travelled to Libya, Syria, Somalia, Iran, Iraq or Yemen since March 1, 2011
What is the method of application for ESTA Visa?
Application for ESTA is carried out electronically via an authorised US website for the Department of Home Security, https://ESTA.cbp.dhs.gov/ESTA.
Application can also be done by using an agency in your home country.
The application procedure now also includes a face-to-face interview with a US Consulate officer at your local embassy. This is a recent development, following the new administration’s suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver.
Is there a right time to apply for an ESTA?
The most appropriate time to apply for an ESTA authorisation is as soon as you are sure you are travelling to the US under the VWP. Also, you can send in your application at least 72 hours before you are ready to begin departure for the US.
How long does it take to get ESTA authorisation?
Generally, an applicant can receive ESTA authorisation response in seconds. In some cases however, the process can take longer than that. At the most, response after an application has been submitted will take up to a period of 72 hours.
Does every visit to the US require an ESTA application?
Once you have an approved ESTA, it is valid for a period of two years, or until your passport expires. You do not have to apply for ESTA each time you want to visit the US as long as your ESTA and passport remain within the validity period.
ESTA allows multiple entries into the US for the period your ESTA is valid. So, another application for ESTA each time you plan to visit is unnecessary.
When visiting the US on ESTA, ensure your stay is no longer than 90 days, as this could negatively impact on your next ESTA or Visa application, or create problems when you need entry into the US at a later date.
What sort of information does ESTA application require?
The following data are needed for an ESTA application and should be readily available before you start the process:
- Personal information including your full name, date of birth, gender and so on
- An up-to-date, valid e-passport
- Credit card or PayPal account to pay the ESTA fee of $14
- Health documents showing that you are free of communicable diseases
- Documents to show your purpose of visit
- Document showing intent to stay only for a 90 day period
- Documents showing you have not had issues with visa denial
- Document showing you do not possess a current ESTA visa
- Document showing you have never been arrested for a crime, convicted or otherwise
- Document showing financial capacity to fund your visit, even if you have prepared accommodation with friends or family in the US
What is the next step after my application is submitted?
After your application has been submitted and processed, a response will be delivered stating your current application status. There are three possible responses that could be obtained:
- Authorisation Approved – this is the response you get when your ESTA application has been successful
- Authorisation Pending – this response simply means a little patience is required. You may need to return to check in on your application in 72 hours for any changes in status.
- Travel Not Authorised – this response means your ESTA is denied. You may need to go through another route in order to gain entry into the US. Apply for a visa in this case to be permitted to travel.
Can I reapply for an ESTA after getting a ‘Travel Not Authorised’ response?
Yes, you can. However a space of 10 days is required before you can submit a fresh application. Also, ensure than there are changes to the necessary information in order to avoid another failed application.
Note that any information provided in the data fields of your ESTA application, with the deliberate intent to mislead, will end in a permanent ban from travelling to the US.
Do I need to apply for a new ESTA if there is a change in any of my personal information?
Yes, and not just for changes in personal information only. A new ESTA authorisation may be required in the event that you get a new e-passport, or if you have made updates to certain information, such as changes in your full name, gender category or nationality.