What is ESTA?
Electronic System for Travel Authorization
If you’ve been researching your trip to the USA, chances are you’ve heard of the ESTA Travel Authorization. This stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It’s an automated system in place of a visa, which determines if a citizen from a Visa Waiver Country is allowed to visit the US. The entire process of obtaining an ESTA takes place online, and it is done by the person who is traveling.
Visa Waiver Countries
There are currently 38 Visa Waiver countries that require an approved ESTA Travel Authorization to visit the USA via air or sea. The advantage of the Visa Waiver Program is that citizens from these countries can travel to the USA on short notice without having to obtain a visa. This process is usually a lot cheaper and faster because it requires almost no paperwork.
If you hold a passport for any of these countries you can visit the USA on the Visa Waiver Program under certain conditions. Travelers with a passport from any other country must obtain a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa in advance of their trip.
Countries that fall under the Visa Waiver Program
Countries that fall under the Visa Waiver Program include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and The United Kingdom.
After you apply
Receiving confirmation of your ESTA travel authorization may take up to 3 days. After approval, you will receive a reference number. Be sure to print the ESTA application response that will be sent to your e-mail, you will need the application number to change your ESTA information when your passport expires. Also make sure to take the printed response with you on your trip to the USA just to be sure.
ESTA Travel Authorization stays valid for 2 years. After 2 years the ESTA expires and you will need to go through the process again. During these 2 years, you may travel to the United States as often as you like, until any answers to the questions in your ESTA application change, or until your current passport expires.
Important facts to remember
- Travelers entering the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program are authorized to remain in country for up to 90 days at a maximum. Extensions are not allowed on the ESTA. If you want to visit the USA for a longer period of time, you will need to apply for a B1 or B2 visa. If your ESTA hasn’t been approved for some reason, you will need to apply for that visa as well.
- A passport able to be read by a machine is required to obtain an ESTA Travel Authorization.
- The Visa Waiver Program was established in 1986 with the goal to stimulate the tourism industry to the United States of America.
- The U.S. Department of State may add or remove countries from the Visa Waiver Program at any time. Argentina and Uruguay were recently removed from the VWP, and the following countries were added: Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Lithuania, Slovakia and South Korea.