If you are travelling to America and you are a citizen of any of the Visa Waiver Countries, it is mandatory to apply for an ESTA approval. An ESTA is an online travel permit application that only takes a few minutes to complete.

When you submit your ESTA application, you get an almost immediate response on your eligibility to travel to the US under the VWP. It could come as quickly as a few minutes.

ESTA responses come in three formats:

  • Authorisation Approved
  • Authorisation Pending
  • Travel Not Authorised

Applicants who get an approval are permitted to travel to the United States. Those who receive an “Authorisation Pending” response are required to visit the website for updates in the next 72 hours for a conclusive response. Applicants whose applications are “Not Authorised” will be asked to go to the Travel Information web site for further details on how to apply for an American travel visa.

How long is an ESTA-authorised travel application valid?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is valid for two years and permits the holder multiple visits into the US during that period. Also, they wouldn’t need to apply for another ESTA authorisation until the first one expires.

However, a new travel authorisation is necessary if:

  1. The traveller has recently been given a new passport
  2. The traveller gets a legally-recognised name change
  3. The traveller performs a gender change
  4. The traveller’s country of nationality changers
  5. The conditions surrounding the traveller’s previous responses to the ESTA application’s “yes” or “no” questions have since changed.

Note that a corresponding fee for each new application will be charged.

More things you should know about an ESTA application

The ESTA is Not a VISA

An ESTA approval is not a visa. It does not satisfy the legislative or regulatory prerequisites to serve in place of a United States visa as is stated American law. Travellers who have an authorised visa will still be allowed to travel to the U.S on the purpose for which the visa was issued. Individuals who already have a valid visa need not apply for an ESTA.

Why is an ESTA authorisation categorised under the Visa Waiver Program?

Due to an amendment of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, the section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires that the Department of Homeland Security or DHS conducts an electronic travel approval scheme and similar procedures to tighten the security of the VWP.

An ESTA adds an extra security measure that allows DHS to establish, ahead of travel, whether an individual was eligible to travel to the U.S under the Visa Waiver Program. It also indicates if such travel poses a risk to security or law enforcement.

Can anybody apply for an ESTA?

Not anybody. Only eligible citizens of VWP countries who intend to travel to the U.S. for short business or tourism under the VWP are expected to receive an ESTA approval before boarding a plane bound for the United States.

By “United States” this includes the country itself and it recognised territories such as Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands of the U.S.

Children travelling alone or accompanied, irrespective of their age, are also expected to obtain an individual ESTA authorisation. A third party, such as a family member of travel official, is allowed to submit and ESTA application for a traveller under VWP.

What items do I need for an ESTA application?

In order to complete an online application, you’ll need the following:

  • A valid electronic passport
  • A credit Card
  • A valid contact address

What information must an applicant provide for an ESTA application?

Biographical data including name, passport information and date of birth. The traveller will also be required to answer VWP admissibility questions about communicability diseases, arrests and convictions of particular crimes. There will also be questions about history of visa revocation, repatriation and similar questions.

When can a traveller apply for an ESTA travel authorisation?

Anytime. In fact, the earlier a person does so, the better. As soon as they start organising their trip to the United States, travellers may submit an application form via the ESTA website.

What happens to travellers who attempt travel to the U.S without an ESTA?

VWP travellers who have NOT been authrorised travel via an ESTA application may be prevented from boarding the plane, delayed during processing, or even denied entry at the U.S. port of entry.

Does an ESTA guarantee automatic entry into the U.S?

Not really. An ESTA is merely an approval to travel to the United States. Travellers under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will still be subjected to mandatory processing at the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) section. They may or may not be granted entry by CPB officials depending or various factors.

In the same way a standard visa does not guarantee immediate admission, an authorised ESTA is not a guarantee of admissibility into the country. At all American ports, CBP officers have the final decision.

Can intending travellers apply for an ESTA without an actual travel plan if they need to travel to the U.S on short notice?

Yes, they can. VWP travellers do not need to have an actual travel plan before they complete an ESTA application. Even if the traveller’s destination in the U.S. is unknown, they can enter “Unknown” into the designated field.

This section can be updated later when the traveller concludes plans and itinerary of their destination in the U.S. However, they need not make any updates to the addresses if the plans change after they receive an ESTA authorisation.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends that individuals hoping to travel to the United States submit an ESTA application as early as possible, even before the details of their trip have been finalised.

Although ESTA accepts applications for last-minute or emergency travellers (including those who arrive at the airport without one), there is no guarantee that it will be approved. A pending authorisation is not something you want to deal with when you have few minutes left to board your plane.

How Long Does It Take to Apply For an ESTA?

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