Travelling abroad can be stressful, and navigating through the visa process can be daunting. ESTA is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which is an online system that can make organizing your travel document and entry requirements for the USA remarkably simple.
ESTA is an online and automated system that is an efficient way of assessing whether someone is eligible to enter the USA via the Visa Waiver Program, known as the VWP. This means that you do not need a full visa, instead you simply obtain authorization to enter the country before you travel. As with a visa, you may still be considered inadmissible by border control when you arrive, but that is always a risk when entering a foreign country.
ESTA is available to citizens from certain countries who are part of the VWP, and who do not currently have a visa. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, then you can apply for ESTA by simply answering questions online regarding your personal details, health, and work.
Once you’ve submitted your ESTA application, you will be advised on whether your application has been approved, and whether you are eligible to enter the USA. Should your application be successful, ESTA allows for a short-term visit only, as it only valid for 90-day visits over a two-year period. Broken down, an ESTA allows you to leave and re-enter the USA at any point over two years, you simply cannot extend one visit for more than 90 days. You should leave reasonable time gaps between each stay – the appropriate gap is not specified, however it should be clear that you are not using ESTA as a means to live in the USA. For example, staying for 90 days then flying back a week later would arise suspicion from border control, which may refuse your entry. ESTA is also incredibly useful, as it can be used for both business and pleasure, where most visas only apply to one or the other.
ESTA is a fast and low cost option compared to traditional visas, taking only 20 minutes to complete. Where traditional visas can take weeks to process, and include embassy interviews and sending your passport away, ESTA is entirely online. You only need to make sure your application is submitted 72 hours before you travel – though it is recommended to submit it as early as possible.
All you need to complete an ESTA application is your computer and Internet access, as well as the required personal information. ESTA is not appropriate for anyone looking to stay for more than 90 days, who is not from a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program, or anyone flying to the USA with a non-signatory air carrier.