The Electronic System for Travel Authorization, also known as ESTA, is an increasingly popular method of obtaining authorization to travel to the USA. The application process is quick and easy, plus it is a low-cost alternative to visas. One of the aspects that make ESTA so popular for travellers is that it can be used by various travellers, who may be entering the USA for completely different reasons or periods of time.
While most visas are explicit in the kind of stay they authorize, ESTA can be used for people entering the USA for both business and pleasure. This is great for people conducting short-term business in the USA, who may want to extend their trip to take in the sights and indulge in tourism. It also allows people to travel for purely tourist reasons, which is why this is appealing to such a large group of people.
There are time limits regarding the validity of ESTA, which do need to be taken into account. The first rule to be aware of is that you cannot stay in the United States for a period of more than 90 days. At the end of 90 days, if not sooner, you are legally obliged to leave the country. One of the requirements of travelling with ESTA is to already have a return or onward ticket, which shows that you will be leaving within the required time frame. However, your travel is not limited to this 90-day period, as the ESTA itself is valid for two years. This means that you can return to the USA without any further visa or travel authorizations at any point during the two-year period that the ESTA is valid.
While this sounds simple, there are also some rules, which are quite vague and subjective, so may be hard to follow. Border control might look out for someone who is trying to use his or her ESTA as a means to live in the USA. While there are no strict time frames detailing how long should be left between trips, if you stay for 90 days, leave the country and try to re-enter soon after, for another 90 days, you may be refused entry. Border control does have the discretion to turn you away. This is specifically for short-term visits, so to be successful with your travel, be aware of the need to use it sensibly and reasonably. Most people will not have this problem, especially if they only travel for a few days or weeks at a time.
Overall, this is an easy way to gain authorization into the USA for genuinely short term stays for both business and pleasure.