The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) was introduced as an additional security measure to control entry of foreign travellers to the United States. Citizens of some countries (countries listed under the ‘VWP’ – Visa Waiver Programme) can travel to and through the United States without a visa, but they now need to have completed an ESTA application. Successful ESTA registration means that the traveller is authorised to travel by boat or plane to the United States, even though they do not have a visa.
It has been mandatory for VWP country citizens to apply for an ESTA since 12th January 2009, although you could complete an ESTA form voluntarily from 1st August 2008.
No, you can’t. An ESTA provides you with authorisation for travel to the USA by boat or air, if you are a citizen of a VWP country. If you plan to travel into the United States over land, your application to do so will be processed at the border, as before.
If you are a citizen of a VWP country you do not need a visa if you plan to stay in the USA for less than 90 days (on business or as a tourist). However, you must complete apply for an ESTA before you travel. If you do not, or if your ESTA application has not been processed and approved by the time you plan to travel, you may be prevented from boarding your plane or boat. Alternatively, you may be delayed while your application is processed, or you may be denied entry to the United States on arrival at the port.
Yes, you do. If you are a citizen or national of a VWP country and you arrive in the United States by plane or boat, you must have an ESTA even if you have travelled from a non-VWP country.
Provided you are a citizen of a VWP country, you can submit your ESTA application at any time before you travel to the United States. Once you have applied for your ESTA, USA travel is usually authorised immediately. However, the Department of Homeland Security recommends that you apply at least 72 hours in advance, to allow ample time for your ESTA registration to be completed.
Before VWP status and ESTA, visa applications could take weeks. Now, although ESTA applications are very fast, you are encouraged to apply for your ESTA in the early stages of planning your trip – you do not need to have specific travel plans (including a firm destination or address within the USA) to apply for an ESTA. Nor will you have to update the details of your itinerary once you have made all your plans.
ESTAs are valid for two years from the date of approval, or until your passport expires (whichever happens earliest). You only need to apply for a new ESTA, therefore, if any of the following change between application and travel:
– Forename or surname
– Country in which you are a citizen
– Any of your answers to the questions on the original ESTA application
Most travellers have their ESTA application approved or disallowed immediately. You will therefore probably be notified as to whether or not you will be allowed to travel without a visa straight away (‘Application Approved’ or ‘Travel Not Authorised’), or you will be told that your application is taking a little longer than normal to process (‘Application Pending’).
If you receive an ‘Application Approved’ notice, you will be able to travel to the United States without a visa through the VWP system. If you receive a ‘Travel Not Authorised’ response, you will be referred to the relevant website to enable you to apply for a full visa to travel to the United States.
If you receive an ‘Application Pending’ response, you will need to check the website for updates. You will receive a final response within 72 hours of submitting your application.