How to ensure your ESTA is Up-to-Date
An authorised ESTA is normally valid for multiple trips for a two-year period, or until the expiration of your passport. This means that your ESTA is up-to-date as long as you have obtained an approval to travel. In addition, if your ESTA expires while still in the US, it doesn’t affect your departure. An expiration notice will be sent to the email address provided on your ESTA application by the US Customs and Border Protection as the date approaches.
All you need to know about ESTA
Electronic System Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is a web-based system that is employed to determine the visitors who qualify to enter the US by verifying their application through the available law enforcement databases. The process for getting an ESTA begins with filling an application form online. Citizens of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Programme who want to travel to the United States require an ESTA.
The Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) is an official understanding formed between the United States and 38 countries. The program allows members of participating countries to come into the US for the purpose of either business or tourism. Individuals visiting the US under the VWP do not require a visa, and are allowed 90 days on each visit. In exchange for this, US citizens are also allowed to visit each of the 38 countries, visa-free for the same length of time.
ESTA was executed following 9/11 as a safety and security procedure to assist in putting a halt to the entry of unwanted citizens from VWP countries into the United States. The main aim was to completely extinguish any and all security threats to the US, and not to restrict business or tourism.
Travelling to the US with a valid visa is possible without applying for ESTA, as long as you are travelling for the purpose for which the visa was authorised. However, VWP country nationals without ESTA cannot travel to the United States. Any attempt to travel could end up in getting detained or deported. Even at the point of departure, you may not be allowed to board. Therefore, an approved ESTA is absolutely necessary for VWP country citizens intending to travel to the United States.
Apart from cases where a passport is dated foe expiration in less than 2 years, ESTA is usually valid for 2 years. A fresh application is however necessary in any of the following situations:
- You obtain a new passport within the 2 year ESTA period
- A change of name or any other personal information is effected
- A gender change is carried out
- Changes to the individual’s country of citizenship
- Changes in circumstances stipulated in the ESTA application form to which your initial answer was “yes” or “no”
Is Automatic Entry Guaranteed for Holders of Approved ESTA?
The decision to accept or reject travellers into the United States lies with the US Customs officials and the Border Protection Officers. You are not guaranteed automatic entry simply by being in possession of an approved ESTA. A successful application simply validated your eligibility to travel to the United States as a citizen of a VWP country.
Can my VWP Eligibility be withdrawn?
Certain categories of travellers under the VWP agreement are now deemed ineligible to travel to the US. The eligibility of others can equally be cancelled if they fail to meet up with certain requirements. New requirements were established following a change that was implemented in January. These requirements include:
- Having no record of being in or travelling to any of the following countries on or before March 1, 2011: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan or Somalia. Presence of a national from a VWP country in any of these country nullifies his eligibility to travel to the United States. (Exceptions exist for nationals who visited the above mentioned countries to carry out military missions for a VWP country or for diplomatic purposes.
- Having dual citizenship in a VWP country and in Syria, Sudan, Iran or Iraq.
These restrictions may be waived if it is decided that they no longer hold significance for the United States. However, only the Secretary of Homeland Security has the ability to do so.
How to Apply for ESTA
It is necessary to request ESTA approval at least 72 hours before you embark on your trip. At the same time, an ESTA can also be applied for immediately you are sure about you travel dates. Such planning provides the opportunity to examine the options available to you in the event of a denial. An option is to apply to the US Embassy or Consulate, which generally takes up to six weeks. So, applying for ESTA before paying for your trip is the best course.
ESTA application can also be done if you are certain of travelling to the US at any point in the near future. The ESTA application is carried out online. Simply input the required details to get a response. Because the procedure is web-based, the approval process is quite fast.
An important tip is to take down your application number or simply print out a copy of the application document. This makes it easier to keep tabs on your application status.
When applying for ESTA, the following conditions must be met:
- You are a national of a VWP member country
- You own a valid e-passport
- You own a credit card and corresponding contact information
When you apply for ESTA, one of three responses will be given
- Authorisation Approval – this means your proposed trip to the US under the VWP is approved
- Authorisation Pending – this means that a response to your application is not readily available and will take a little more time. This situation is usually resolved in 72 hours.
- Travel not authorised – this means that your application for ESTA has been declined. Your next step when this happens is go to the US Embassy or Consulate to apply for a paper visa.
More often than not, an individual’s VWP eligibility status for ESTA takes a very short time to be determined. After submission of your form has been acknowledged, it only takes a few seconds to get a response.