Officially known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, ESTA is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of a citizen from any of the 38 Visa Waiver Countries to enter America by air or sea. An ESTA visa lets you travel to the U.S. for a maximum of 90 days either for a business trip or a holiday. The system allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assess travellers from Visa Waiver Countries before they set course for the U.S.
Starting on the 12th of January 2009, it became a requirement for any VWP traveller planning to enter the United States to be authorised to enter the country via ESTA.
Are you eligible for an ESTA visa?
You are eligible for an ESTA visa only if you are a citizen of any of the 38 Visa Waiver Countries. You don’t need an ESTA visa if you are a green card holder and if you are driving into the U.S. from Canada or Mexico. Also, you will have to be authorized through ESTA if you’re planning to transit through the United States on your way to another country.
What is the application process for an ESTA visa?
Please note that an ESTA visa is strictly related to travelling and is not a requirement for a non-resident visa. You don’t need to go in person to an American embassy or consulate to apply for an ESTA. All applications are started and processed entirely online with no physical forms. In case you are familiar with the Australian ETA application process, applying for an ESTA visa is a similar procedure.
As stipulated by the official channels, you should submit your application at least 72 hours before you travel. To apply for an ESTA visa:
- Visit www.esta-approval.com/ and submit your application. While you should allow up to 72 hours for a response, your application may be processed immediately.
- Take note of your application number as you’ll need it to check your ESTA status or update your information.
- Pay for your ESTA application.
- Check your application status.
Note: Regardless of age, all children from the Visa Waiver Countries will also be required to obtain an ESTA visa before entering the U.S. If you have children, you will have to make a group of applications for ESTA authorization, with each person requiring a separate application. You may also apply on behalf of your spouse, but note that they are held responsible for the accuracy of their information.
Once your application has been processed, you may receive any of the following responses:
- Authorization Pending
With an ‘Authorization Pending’ response, you should wait up to 72 hours before checking back for the final response.
- Authorization Approved
Upon receiving authorization for entry into the United States, you will be issued a category C-1 visa for in-transit travellers or a category B-1/B-2 visa category for business or tourism.
- Travel Not Authorized
You have not been authorized to travel to the USA this time.
Requirements needed to be considered for an ESTA visa
The first requirement for ESTA eligibility is you must be a citizen of a VWP country. Ensure you meet the following requirements before you commence the application process:
- A bona fide e-passport that’s up to date.
- A valid credit card or PayPal account to pay for the application.
- You must not already have a valid ESTA visa or your application will be invalidated.
- You are required to prove you have never had a visa revoked.
- You are required to prove you are healthy and free from any communicable disease.
- You are required to prove you have never been arrested for any crime, whether or not you were convicted.
- You are required to prove you are visiting exclusively for business or a holiday and that your stay will not go beyond 90 days.
- In your application, you are required to provide essential bio information such as your full name as it appears on your passport, your date of birth, your country of citizenship, and other details included in your e-passport.
- You are required to present your most recent employment information. This is to prove that you will be able to adequately sustain yourself throughout your stay, whether or not you have prearranged accommodation in America.
My ESTA was approved, what next?
With an approved ESTA, you will be able to travel freely within the United States and the following territories which are part of the country:
- Puerto Rico
- The commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
- The Virgin Islands of the U.S.
Once your ESTA is approved, it will remain valid for a period of two years within which you are free to make multiple trips to the U.S. without needing to reapply. You are not required to print your ESTA or take a copy along with you as it will be sent electronically to the airport.
My ESTA was not approved, what do I do?
If you are turned down for an ESTA visa, you will have to wait at least 10 days before you can reapply provided your conditions have changed. You must never supply false information when you’re applying for an ESTA visa as this will see you being barred from ever entering the United States.
You can apply for a non-immigrant visa by booking an appointment and visiting the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in your country. Because the process is time consuming, you’ll be better off booking in advance. Please note that you’ll not be able to obtain an approved ESTA Travel Authorization from an American embassy or consulate.