What is ESTA?

ESTA is a system to allow those without a visa to travel to the United States. This applications provides that authorization to travel and is checked by the United States Customs and Border Protection upon arrival. Through this system one received a response immediately if they are approved to travel to the United States. This differs from a visa, because a Visa is approved for specific reasons, while the ESTA approves travel for a variety of reasons including business and pleasure. One does not need to apply with the ESTA if they already have a visa. However, having either a visa or having applied with the ESTA does not guarantee admission to the United States. ESTA are valid for 2 years and at that point you would need to reapply. There should also be a valid amount of time between visits so as not to be seen as an attempt to live in the United States. Re application should be done when changes are made to your name, gender, have a new passport, your country or citizenship changes, or if circumstances change like being convicted of a felony.

Why Do We Have ESTA?

ESTA was developed after 9/11 to add a layer of security to the United States. This enables homeland security to screen individuals prior to their travels and allows homeland security to either approve or deny an individuals entry. This helps keep the Unites States safe and help prevent acts of terrorism.

Prior to Applying

Prior to even beginning to use this application, one needs to be sure of a few things. Individuals applying need to be a citizen or eligible national within a Visa Waiver Program. You can not have a visitors visa and must be traveling to the country you are planning for less than 90 days. You also must be traveling to the United States for either business or pleasure. You will also need to have a passport, a valid credit card, your contact information, and your most recent employment information.

The Application Process

The application itself only takes 20 minutes and the results are given immediately if not within a few days. One can apply 72 hours prior to travel, but one can apply as soon as one knows they will be traveling to the United States. Homeland security retains applications through the 2 year window and keeps records of prior applications in case it is needed by law enforcement or the government.

ESTA vs Visa

It is best to apply for a Visa if you are intending to travel for reasons other than visiting for pleasure or business. A Visa is also required if one is traveling to the United States for more than 90 days.

This article reviewed the ESTA process and frequently asked questions as well as the difference between the need for the ESTA or the visa.