If you wish to travel to the U.S., there’s one important document that you must have. And no, it’s not your travel insurance! Every eligible traveler from a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) country should have an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). It allows you to visit the U.S. for business, tourism, or holiday without having to obtain a visa.
It replaces the green immigration form (form I-94W) and all the data is stored electronically.
Not to be confused with an authorization to stay in the U.S., ESTA only allows you to visit the U.S. for 90 days or less. The whole application process takes less than 20 minutes and there’s a 99% chance you’ll be approved.
Who needs an ESTA?
An ESTA authorization is compulsory and checks whether your travel poses any travel risks. You require an ESTA if:
- You come from one of the 38 Visa Waiver Program countries
- Your planned trip is for business or pleasure
- Your visit is 90 day or less
- You are applying for a new authorization, for one person or for two or more persons.
- You are traveling to the U.S. by sea or air
How long does an ESTA last?
Your ESTA is valid for a duration of two years from the date of issue or until the expiration of your visa (whichever comes first). You can use your ESTA to make multiple trips within the span of two years. However, you need to update any personal information that has changed before reusing your authorization.
You can’t renew an ESTA authorization. If you plan for a trip to the U.S. after the two years has elapsed, you have to reapply and pay any related fees.
How much does an ESTA cost?
ESTA application will cost you $14 per person. $4 is the processing fee and $10 is the authorization charge. All applications must be paid for via credit card. This cost is for each application and not each entry.
For instance, a family of three will need three separate applications and pay a total of $42. The form takes a few seconds to be approved.
Note that you’ll still pay a processing fee of $4 if your application is rejected.
Since payments are in U.S. Dollar, it’s advisable to check the exchange rates before making the payment to ensure you cover the charges.
Things to remember
1. ESTA authorization falls under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This means you cannot stay in the U.S. longer than 90 days. You will need a visa from the U.S. Embassy if your visit exceeds 90 days.
2. In the event you want to change your name, country of citizenship or the answer to your eligibility question, you will need to apply for a new authorization
3. You must apply for your ESTA at the time of booking your travel or within 72 hours before boarding
4. Your departure will not be affected by the expiry of your ESTA while still in the U.S.
5. ESTA application is entirely online
Can an ESTA application be rejected?
Yes. It is crucial that you meet all the requirements as a denial can have a negative impact on your future travel plans.
So what are the requirements?
• A valid passport
• A valid credit card or PayPal
• Proof of identity. Usually a valid identification document with your picture.
• All applications are submitted in English
• Contact information
Since an ESTA has a limited duration, it is recommended that you only apply if and when you intend to use it.