The rules for traveling and immigrating to specific countries change over the years and the same is true about the USA. Depending on your nationality, purpose of travel and financial standing- the type of visa you need for getting into the USA may vary. In fact, in certain situations you can visit the United States without a visa. If you qualify for the ESTA, you may actually be allowed to visit the USA for a specified duration without a tourist or student VISA. The ESTA is a replacement for the former I-94W green form. The Department of Homeland Security in the USA introduced ESTA in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks with an aim to filter entry of undesirable citizens in the USA from the VWP countries.


Basics of ESTA that you should know

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization which is a digital automated framework used to determine eligibility of applicants belonging to VWP category countries to enter the USA. Since 2009 ESTA has been made mandatory for the citizens belonging to countries covered by the Visa Waiver Programme. Once the ESTA application is approved, it remains valid for duration of 2 years. Within that 2-year period, the applicant can make multiple entries in the US territory. It is required when people from those nations travel to the USA by air or Sea. Those traveling by land to the USA do not need it.

Apply today and get your approved ESTA Authorization by email!


Why and when you opt for ESTA?

There are a number of situations in which you may have to opt for ESTA to get entry into US territories.

  • It can be useful when you need to visit the USA for business needs and stay there for a month or even more.
  • If you want to do short term educational course in the USA and staying for 2 months or so will be necessary. However, the scope for such short-term courses in the US universities is quite limited.
  • If your university sends you for internship or similar needs to any US institution or company etc ESTA may be useful.
  • You may also opt for it if you want to have a short vacation in the USA.


What are the advantages of opting for ESTA?

There are many advantages of opting for ESTA for the citizens of VWP nations. These are:

  • Sometimes, it may be necessary to travel to the USA on a short notice. This can be necessitated by educational or business needs. Applying for a proper US Visa is time consuming process. Only ESTA can be obtained within short notice. If you are eligible, the approval may be obtained within minutes of applying online! You can know the status within 72 hours of applying.
  • Once you get ESTA approval you can pay several visits to the USA within 2 year duration.
  • Unlike normal Visa, ESTA does not require you to undergo one to one interview at the embassy.


Understanding the limitations of ESTA and its differences with a proper VISA

Under the VWP (which is under the Department of Homeland Security) the residents of 36 participating countries may be allowed to travel to the USA for pleasure, short term education or business needs. They do not need a VISA for the stay if ESTA is approved but the stay duration cannot be longer than 90 days at a stretch. While the ESTA remains valid for 2 years once approved, it gets terminated if the applicant’s passport expires within that period.

While the ESTA enables the citizens of VWP participating countries to travel to the USA and stay there for short duration, it should not be deemed as replacement of a proper US VISA under any circumstances! If you intend to study in the USA or have plans to expand business there, you will need to apply for a suitable VISA.

While obtaining approval for ESTA makes you eligible for travelling to the USA, the same does not guarantee entry into the US territory. The final decision to allow a foreign national to get entry into the USA lies in hands of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection department. The officials still can deny entry to a person even if he/she has approval for ESTA if they think something is amiss.

ESTA is also required when you hail from a VWP participating country and have a flight to another country that passes through the USA. In that case, you have to disembark after arrival at the interconnecting US airport and go through standard immigration and customs processing.

Not sure if you are eligible for applying? Check here the requirements for ESTA Authorization.


Understanding passport related issues

To ensure your ESTA application is not rejected or you do not face problems during entry to the US shores, you need to be careful and check a few aspects carefully. You have to check the details in your passport carefully while applying online for ESTA. Any discrepancy of data in your application and the actual passport is likely to result in denial on entry after arrival in the USA.  The ESTA travel permit actually depends on the validity of information in your passport. In case you applied for ESTA sometimes back and got approval and after that passport information got changed, it is necessary that you reapply for ESTA.

The passport needs to be chip equipped or machine readable. The residents hailing from the below listed VWP countries must have electronic passports to get entry into the USA through ESTA:

  • Estonia
  • South Korea
  • Slovakia
  • Latvia
  • Hungary
  • Lithuania
  • Republic of Malta
  • Greece


About the application procedure and what to do next

The only way you can opt for ESTA is through online application. You have to browse the official ESTA website and do the needful to submit your application for approval. After application, it takes a maximum of 72 hours to get a response but most applicants may find a reply much sooner. The online application process is pretty simple and most applicants do not need even half an hour to complete it.

The ESTA applicants will receive any of the 3 responses:

  1. Authorization Approved
  2. Authorization Pending
  3. Travel Not Authorized

You get a code after applying online for ESTA which can be used later to log in and check application status. Ideally, applicants should apply for ESTA at least 72 hours before flight departure time. In fact, it would be even better to apply a few months before the travel date to the USA. This way, if your ESTA application is rejected for any reason, you can still apply for a Visa at the US embassy. The latter process can be quite time consuming.


What if the ESTA application is not cleared?

Unless there are some strong reasons related to security, most Applicants of ESTA (belonging to VWP nations) get immediate approval of ESTA. However, exceptions can be there and some applicants face rejection. They receive the response ‘Travel Not Authorized’. There is no reason to be disheartened if this happens to you! Getting this response does not mean you cannot travel to the USA. It simply means you cannot travel using ESTA. You can very well apply for a travel or other type of US visa by visiting the US embassy. However, those who get rejected for ESTA should not re apply as it will not yield any positive result.


What you can expect after arriving on the US shores with ESTA?

After you obtain clearance for ESTA after applying online, you get rid of the long wait and bureaucracy associated with travel using a Visa. However, you still need to clear the final point at the US customs. At this point, like every foreign national entering US territory, you will be subjected to a round of screening and routine procedures. There is nothing to feel overwhelmed and clear and confident answers to the queries will enhance your chance of getting entry to the USA.

The US customs officers may ask you questions on the below listed topics:

  • The areas you will be staying during your stain the USA under ESTA
  • The purpose of traveling to the USA
  • The time of departure from US shores
  • A few questions on your work like education or business

The US border control officers may ask questions outside these too, especially to those who are heading to the USA for travel purpose. They may be asked queries on income related topics. If you are visiting any friend or relative in the USA during the 90-day duration under ESTA, it is better that you have their details with you at this juncture. Having proof of income may also be helpful here. If you are able to offer clear, to the point answers to such queries and have documents with you as evidence- there is nothing to worry about getting clearance at the final step.


See also: Visiting the North America– What Online Travel Permits Are Needed?