What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization?
International travelers hoping spend time in the United States (for a maximum of up to 90 days at a time) are going to need to apply for and receive Electronic System for Travel Authorization – commonly referred to as the ESTA.
The ESTA program streamlines pretty significantly the application process for visiting the United States, giving individual travelers to the US an opportunity to come for upwards of 90 days (for business or for fun) without having to get a visa had of time.
Instituted by the Department of Homeland Security it has been streamlined to work really well with individuals traveling to the US from partner nations that are also involved with the Visa Waiver Program. There are 39 different nations around the world that are part of this travel agreement (including the United States) and it really helps to simplify the international travel plans for millions of individuals each and every year.
To learn more about the ESTA and whether or not you’ll need to take advantage of this program (as well as how and a couple of tips and tricks to shortcut the process a little bit) you’ll want to check out the rest of this quick guide.
ESTA 101 – What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization?
The US Department of Homeland Security working in conjunction with the U.S. Congress and the United States Customs and Border Protection agencies decided to make it mandatory for all international visitors coming to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program for less than 90 days to have been approved by a new Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
Working similarly to a traditional travel visa (though it is not itself a visa), and approval of ESTA does allow for individuals and families to visit the US for a period of time up to 90 days (but no longer). By contrast, a visa for the US type B1 / B2 allows for up to 180 consecutive days of visit at each entry.
Recognizing that this could throw a bit of a wrench into the mix when it comes to international travel to the United States the Department of Homeland Security implemented a number of very helpful tools to make the ESTA application process pretty effortless.
The entire application process can be conducted online (something we dig into a little later), can be completed inside of about 15 minutes or so, and if approved individuals are able to continue to use this ESTA for block of time good for up to 24 months.
At the same time, there are some important considerations you’ll need to think about before you move forward with the ESTA application. You’ll need to know that this kind of travel arrangement is right for you and your needs, that it is going to give you the ability to travel to the United States legally, and that you have plenty of time to go through the application process ahead of your travel itinerary.
Who Needs ESTA Approval?
For starters, anyone that wants to visit the United States for a period of time that stretches up to 90 days total will want to move forward with ESTA application processes.
As highlighted above, the ESTA does not meet the legal requirements of a traditional United States visa even though it does act similarly to that travel approval. Anyone visiting the United States with a valid visa are not going to be eligible to apply for ESTA travel but will instead have to visit the United States under that visa that they were granted previously.
There are also 39 partner nations that have enrolled in the Visa Waiver Program internationally that an individual applying for ESTA approval will have to be a citizen of. These partner nations include:
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
You’ll need to improve your citizenship and will also have to prove that you have a valid passport from one of those partner nations before you can move forward.
If you’re ESTA application is approved you’re going to be granted permission to enter into the United States. You’ll be able to visit for tourism and business travel purposes only, however, and again this isn’t going to operate like a traditional visa. There is no extended-stay application process with the ESTA the way there is with a traditional visa, either.
At the same time, one of the cool features about the ESTA is that it remains a valid for two years after your approval has been granted (or up until your current passport expires). This means that you can have multiple visits to the United States for up to 90 days at a time without having to reapply and go through the same application and approval process.
How Does the ESTA Process Work?
One way to move through the ESTA process is to simply visit the official ESTA application website at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/ and check out the online application form yourself. You will find the opportunity to create a new application or to check the approval status of a currently existing application right up near the top of the main page.
Before getting started, however, you’re going to need to confirm that you are:
- A citizen or a naturalized citizen of one of the 39 partner nations with the Visa Waiver Program
- Someone that does not currently have a valid US visitor’s visa of any type
- Planning to visit the United States for no longer than 90 days consecutively
- Intending to visit the United States for either business or tourism purposes
- Looking for a new authorization after a previous ESTA approval expired
After you have confirmed all of those details are good to go you’ll then need to make sure that you have gathered:
- Your passport from the Visa Waiver Program nation (needs to be valid, too)
- A credit card to pay for the $14 ESTA application
- Pertinent contact details and information
- Details regarding your most recent employment history (if this is applicable to you)
After you have gathered all of those resources you can then begin the official ESTA application process.
If you choose to do this through the Customs and Borders Protection website (using the link we highlighted above) the process is simple and straightforward, with a lot of on-screen prompts and help in successfully completing this process directly from US Customs.
You’ll need to complete the entire ESTA application form from top to bottom, digitally sign the document, and then submit the necessary supporting documents that verify your identity. After that your process the $14 payment using the credit card we mentioned earlier and then the application will be officially submitted.
In most cases, you’ll receive instant notification about whether or not you’re ESTA application has been approved. In rare circumstances it can take upwards of 72 hours to get back to you about the status of your current ESTA request. This is why it is always a good idea to make sure that you apply for ESTA approval well in advance of your departure date, but certainly at least 72 hours ahead of your flight to the United States.
Another great option is to use our services to issue ESTA:
As part of our service you will receive an easy and convenient form to fill. The form is formulated in a simple way to understand. If your language is not English, we will present you the form in your language which will make it easier for you. Of course, before submitting the form, we go over the details and make sure they match the passport information to avoid critical mistakes when filling out the form.
Important ESTA Details to Know
While you are going to be able to use an approved ESTA to get into the United States for up to two years after that date of approval, this does not mean that you are automatically going to be granted entry or reentry into the United States based off of the ESTA alone.
Yes, you can use the same ESTA to visit the United States multiple times throughout that two years that it remains valid. But if you stay in the country for 90 days, travel home for a week or two, and then travel back to the United States for another 90 day stay (continue to do so regularly) the odds are good that US Customs and Border Protection officials are going to want to know a little more about your visits.
They may even stop you from reentering the United States under suspicion of visa avoidance, something that can really make international travel a challenge for you moving forward.
There is no set or standard amount of time or amount of reentries into the US that the US Customs and Border Protection agents based these kinds of decisions off of. It’s instead more of a case-by-case kind of issue, but it’s always a good idea to play it safe rather than end up sorry later down the line.
Of course, if you would like to extend your stay in the United States it is possible to do so – though you won’t be able to do so exclusively with your ESTA approval.
If you find opportunities in the United States that you’d like to pursue longer than 90 days you’ll have to go through the H1B visa application process (if you’re looking for work here, for example) which will require you to return to your home country and then apply for a visa before you are able to come back.
At the end of the day, the ESTA application and approval process feels a lot more daunting than it actually is. This is a very “user-friendly” kind of way to travel to the United States as a citizen of a country that has partnered up with the Visa Waiver Program and has a significant amount of advantages for those that want to explore everything the US has to offer.
Apply for ESTA
Want to easily issue an ESTA certificate to enter the US for transit, tourism or business purposes? You’ve come to the right place. Click the button to start filling out the form online.