What Is Esta?

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The visa waiver program is a U.S. government program that enables citizens and nationals from the 36 Visa Waiver Countries to enter the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. The advantage of entering the United States under the visa waiver program is that you can travel to the United States on short notice without obtaining a visa in advance.

What is ESTA?

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA is an online application system developed by the United States government to pre-screen travelers before they are allow to board an airplane or ship bound for the United States. Starting on January 12, 2009, any person entering the United States under the visa waiver program is required to hold an approved ESTA Travel Authorization.

Who Needs to Apply for ESTA?

All travelers entering the United States (by air or sea) under the visa waiver program are required to hold a valid ESTA travel authorization. The purpose of ESTA is to allow the US Department of Homeland Security to pre-screen all Visa Waiver Travelers before they leave their respective countries. U.S.-bound travelers are recommended to apply for a Travel Authorization at least 72 hours prior to departure.

The conditions on an ESTA are:

  • The ESTA is valid for 24 months from date of approval (or to the expiry date of your passport - if the passport expires within the next 24 months);
  • The ESTA is a multiple entry visa with each visit being a maximum of 90 days;
  • The ESTA 90 day visit limit does not start until your arrive in the USA;
  • The holder of an ESTA is entitled to undertake tourism and certain business activities such as exploring job opportunities, consult with business associates, travel for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention or conference; and
  • The holder of an ESTA is not permitted to engage in any work, study or training.

Please note that you will not be permitted to enter the USA on an ESTA if you have certain criminal convictions. Check with your local US consulate before applying for your ESTA visa.

Does a travel authorisation guarantee me access to the United States?

If your electronic travel authorization is approved, this approval establishes that you are eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, but does not guarantee that you are admissible to the United States. Upon arrival in the United States you will be inspected by a Customs and Border Protection officer at a port of entry who may determine that you are inadmissible under the Visa Waiver Program or for any reason under United States law.

Is a travel authorisation a visa?

No, an approved travel authorization is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a United States visa when a visa is required under United States law. Individuals who possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose for which it was issued. Individuals traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for a travel authorization.

How long is my travel authorisation valid?

Unless revoked, travel authorizations are valid for two years from the date of authorization, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.

Do nationals or citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Programme require travel authorisation if they are only transiting the United States en route to another country?

Eligible nationals or citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program require either a travel authorization or a visa to transit the United States. If a traveler is only planning to transit through the United States en route to another country, when he or she completes the travel authorization application in ESTA, the traveler should enter the words "In Transit" and his or her final destination location in the address lines in the Address While In The United States field on the application.

Who is elegible to apply for admission under the Visa Waiver Program?

You are eligible to apply for admission under the Visa Waiver Program (Visa Waiver Program) if you;

Intend to enter the United States for 90 days or less for business, pleasure or transit
Have a valid passport lawfully issued to you by a Visa Waiver Program country
Have authorization to travel via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization
Arrive via a Visa Waiver Program signatory carrier
Have a return or onward ticket
Travel may not terminate in contiguous territory or adjacent islands unless the traveler is a resident of one of those areas 
Are a citizen or national of one of the Visa Waiver Program

What should a traveler do if he or she is not approved for travel through ESTA?

If an ESTA application is denied and the traveler wishes to continue with the trip, the traveler will be required to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.