Getting a US visa feels like going through a lot of trouble. There’s loads of paperwork, confusion about which visa to apply for, and the dreaded in-person interview with US Consulate staff. However, few countries are fortunate to get visa waiver benefits for their US travel. They can avoid the hassles of completing lengthy applications and appearing in person for interviews. But they must still obtain approval before boarding a flight to the US. The ESTA-visa waiver program comes into the picture for the citizens of these countries as a travel formality. Check out this compact guide that answers all the common questions about this US travel authorization if you are unfamiliar with it and curious to learn more about it.

What is ESTA?

ESTA stands for ‘Electronic System for Travel Authorization’. Before arriving in the US, travelers from countries who are part of the US Visa Waiver Program are required to obtain this US online travel authorization. Once received, the traveler can visit the US for 90 days for tourism, short-stays, transit through the US, or short-duration business purposes.

Who can apply for an ESTA?

Only those who are eligible for the benefit of a US visa waiver must complete the online ESTA travel form. Before entering the US, they must submit an ESTA application and receive approval to board a flight to the US airport. Anyone who needs to apply for a US visa is not allowed to submit an ESTA application.

Is ESTA different from a US visa?

ESTA is only applicable to those who enjoy a visa-exempt benefit to travel to the US. Those who do not have this privilege need to apply for a Non-Immigrant Visa to enter the United States of America. ESTA serves as an extra layer of security that tells the US immigration and border control if a person travelling under the Visa Waiver Program is allowed to enter the country. It is simply a process of collecting biographic information and examining whether or not the applicant is eligible to be flagged as safe to fly to the US.

Citizens of which country can apply for ESTA?

The countries in the US visa waiver Program are ESTA countries and can apply for this travel authorization. These are:

Andorra, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Iceland, Australia, Austria, Ireland, San Marina, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Slovakia, Japan, Brunei, Chile, Latvia, Slovenia, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Estonia, Malta, Switzerland, Taiwan, Monaco, Finland, France, Netherlands, UK, New Zealand, Norway, Greece and Germany.

How to Apply for ESTA?

An ESTA application is a travel procedure that should be completed and submitted by a citizen of the visa-waiver Program country before boarding a flight to arrive in the US. The application process is simple and straightforward. ESTA can be submitted online on the official website: Simply create a new application and start answering the questions. Upload a copy of your current passport, and enter a valid email address to which the ESTA notification and final status will be sent after the form has been submitted. You have the option to save a partially completed online form. You can save and complete it within 7 days from the date of registration. Once the online payment for this service is complete, the ESTA application is considered complete and submitted for verification.

What are the requirements for applying for an ESTA?

The first and crucial aspect to consider is whether you as an applicant comply with Visa Waiver Program Requirements. For applying for an ESTA, you should be a citizen of a participating country of the US Visa Waiver Program. Your travel duration should be less than 90 days in the US and you should possess a valid return or onward flight tickets. The passport must be an electronic passport with a chip embedded that has biometric information about the passport holder. It should be a valid passport, should not be handwritten, and must contain current details of the traveller.

What is the validity of ESTA?

An approved ESTA is valid for a period of 2 years from the date it is issued. However, during this validity period, if there are any changes in passport validity or information such as a name change, citizenship, or amendments in any of the details provided to prove eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program changes, then the ESTA will no longer be considered valid. You must reapply for ESTA using the information from your new passport. ESTA will lapse if the passport is expired. To obtain an ESTA, current passport information is always required.

How long does it take to get an ESTA approval?

Typically, it takes about 3 working days for the ESTA to be verified and approved after it has been submitted. This quick response is what makes ESTA a hassle-free way to travel to the United States. A traveller can easily submit an application 72 hours before travelling to the US. However, it is best to keep some buffer and apply in advance to avoid last-minute stress.

How much does it cost to apply for an ESTA?

An ESTA application costs US$ 21 per application. The ESTA application processing fee is US$ 4 and after the application has been reviewed and approved, a fee of US$17 is charged. If the application is denied, only the processing charge of US$ 4 is charged.

Does getting an ESTA approval guarantee entry into the US?

No, The ESTA only guarantees eligibility to travel to the US airport. It gives the permission to attempt to get entry into the US. The decision to allow an individual into the USA solely lies with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the airport.