The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is a quick and automatic way of assessing whether or not a person is eligible to travel to the United States through the Visa Waver Programme (VWP). The VWP is a system that allows citizens of certain countries to travel for business or leisure and stay in the United States for up to 90 days.
The countries that are have VWP status are those which have a good, solid record of their citizens travelling to the United States for legitimate purposes and leaving at the end of their legal stay. The list of VWP countries includes the UK, France, Germany, as well as non-European states, such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
If you are a citizen of a VWP country, you can travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. However, you will need to apply for ESTA registration. The ESTA form, once submitted, will easily determine whether or not you are eligible to visit the United States without a visa and/or if there are any legal or security risks associated with your plans to travel.
Without an ESTA, USA travel will be impossible as you will be unable to board a plane or boat bound for the United States without that prior authorisation having been granted, even though you do not need an actual visa. You will therefore need an ESTA visa (that is, to have completed your ESTA registration) in place before you travel.
Once you have completed your ESTA application, you will be informed of whether you can travel to the United States without a visa.
If you have children travelling with you (or if your children are travelling on their own), they will each need to have completed and registered an ESTA form. As their relative, you can complete ESTA form(s) for your child or children.
Yes, you do. There used to be a ‘Transit Without Visa’ system that would allow people to go to the United States en route to another country without applying for a full United States visa – that system has now ended. Instead, if you live in a VWP country you can travel to the USA for up to 90 days or pass through the United States on your way to your ultimate destination without a visa. However, to do so you must have completed an ESTA registration.
There is a provision on the ESTA form for you to write where you plan to stay while in the United States. If you plan to simply travel through the USA, use the words “in transit” plus details of your final destination in this section.
No, you do not. The ESTA visa system only applies to citizens of VWP countries. Canada, Bermuda, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands are not VWP countries and so the ESTA system does not apply.
No, you do not. The ESTA system is only for people who live in VWP countries, who plan to travel to the United States for less than 90 days without a visa. If you already have a visa you do not need to use the ESTA system.
Yes, you do. The only VWP countries currently approved are listed in the section above. There are some countries that have signed up to a VWP Memoranda of Understanding with the United States (listed below) but they have not yet been approved as VWP countries. That means that citizens of those countries must still apply for a visa and therefore cannot use the ESTA system.
These countries are:
Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and South Korea.
At the current time, those countries do not have a solid record of verifying that at least 97% of their citizens leave at the end of their legal stay. When they do, they will have VWP status and will at that point need to complete ESTA registration prior to travel. For now, they need full visas to travel to the United States.
No, you do not. If you have a valid visa you may travel to and through the United States in accordance with the terms (including any limitations) of that visa. You will not need to complete an ESTA before travelling.