The Electronic System Travel Authorization (ESTA) system screens visitors that are eligible to travel to the USA through the Visa Waiver Program. Visa waver eligible travelers can enter the United States without visa, yet will need an approved ESTA. Travelers entering the USA through the Visa Waiver Program are deemed to pose less security or immigration risks to the United States than travelers from other countries.
What can I do with an ESTA?
An approved ESTA allows you to board an air or sea carrier to the United States via the Visa Waiver Program. All major air and sea carriers are required to be a signatory Visa Waiver Program carrier. United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) advises applicants submit their ESTA applications while booking travel, and apply more than 3 days prior to their departure to the United States.
How does ESTA work?
Foreign nationals traveling under the Visa Waiver Program will be able to travel without a visa, yet will require ESTA. CBP, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), established ESTA as a way to identify travelers posing threats before they enter the U.S. As soon as you enter the necessary biographic data, payment and travel information on the form, the application is processed by the system to determine whether you are authorized to travel to the United States without a visa.
When you arrive at your port of departure, your airline or sea carrier will confirm with the United States Customs and Border Protection that you have a valid travel authorization.
Is ESTA like a US visa?
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is not a visa. It fails to meet the legal requirements to serve in place of a United States visa. Visitors that have a valid United States visa can travel to the U.S. for the reasons it was issued. Travelers with valid visas are not compelled to apply an ESTA. The same way a valid United States visa provides no guarantee for admission to the country, an authorized ESTA is no guarantee as well of admission to the U.S. However, visa applicants may have the right to appeal the decision for entry into the country.
How long has ESTA been a requirement?
ESTA was made compulsory on January 12, 2009. Anyone applying for for an ESTA is expected to complete an electronic Customs declaration once they arrive in the United States. Travelers under the Visa Waiver Program no longer have to complete the green 1-94W card.
Approved ESTA applications are valid for two years, or until the date of passport expiry. Travelers can visit the United States multiple times without having to re-apply for an ESTA each time. While using the ESTA to travel to the United States, travelers can only stay for a period of 90 days per visit. Visits to the United States should be spaced to prevent the Customs and Border Protection from suspecting travelers are abusing the VWP. There is no set time in between visits to the United States while traveling under the VWP.
Does an approved ESTA guarantee admission into the United States?
If you are approved for travel through the ESTA, then this approval helps to establish that you as an individual are allowed to travel the States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). It does not, however, automatically qualify you as admissible into the country upon entry. When arriving at your destination in America, you will undergo screening by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Once this screening is complete, a decision will be made on your admissibility to enter the U.S. under the VWP.
What is the validity period of ESTA?
Unless revoked for a specific reason, your ESTA authorization is granted for a period of 24 months upon approval. That is, unless your passport expires first, at which point your ESTA will also expire. CBP officials will be able to view your ESTA expiration date on their systems.
Your ESTA authorization will be valid for multiple trips to the U.S. in the specified two year period. This means you will not need to apply for ESTA for each U.S. visit if your previous authorization is valid.
Should your ESTA expire while you are in the middle of a US visit, that the expiration will not affect your ability to leave the country.
Can you stay for up to 24 months on an ESTA?
No. Although ESTA authorization lasts for a period of 24 months, this does not mean that an individual is permitted to spend a continuous total of two years in the US. ESTA allows travel to the country for stays of 90 days or less. Travelers that are planning to spend a longer uninterrupted period in the country are required to obtain a visitor visa. A visitor visa can be either a B1 business visa or B2 tourist visa. Both of these require completion of a DS-160 form and an interview at your local US Consulate or Embassy.
Travelers will be required to reapply for ESTA if they obtain a new passport, or change their country of citizenship, name or listed gender. Furthermore, a new application is also required if there are any changes to the answers provided by an applicant to the ESTA eligibility questions.
It is highly recommended that an individual applies for ESTA at the time of their travel booking, rather than closer to their departure date. Travelers are advised to leave at least 72 hours prior to boarding.
Are digital copies or printouts required at the airport?
The simple answer is no. CBP will have access to all of your ESTA information through their databases. However, possession of a physical copy of your authorization is always something that a sensible traveler might want. The VWP does not legally require a physical copy but having one for your records may be helpful.