If you are planning a trip to the United States for business or pleasure, with or without children, you probably know that – before departure – you must get a special authorization called ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).
Essentially, it is a document that facilitates the entry into the United States, effectively replacing a “traditional” VISA (normally required by the U.S. government).
ESTA is in fact part of the Visa Waiver Program (Visa Waiver Program) and only a few countries have access to it. See the full list here:
- Andorra, Australia, Austria
- Belgium, Brunei
- Finland, France
- Germany, Greece
- Ireland, Iceland, Italy
- Liechtenstein, Luxembourg
- New Zealand, Norway
- Netherlands, Portugal
- United Kingdom
- San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
ESTA has a two-years validity; if the passport expires before the past two years, the validity of ESTA follows that of the passport.
During the period of validity of ESTA, you can travel to the United States several times, without requiring further authorization.
Who Can Apply for ESTA?
To take advantage of the Visa Waiver Program and then be able to make the ESTA application instead of the normal visa, you have to have (all) the following requirements:
- you must be residents or citizens of one of the countries listed above
- you must be in possession of a valid electronic passport, or a machine-readable passport or a passport with a digital photograph issued before October 26, 2006 (read about passport requirements here)
- you have to travel to the U.S. only for tourism or business (ESTA is required even if you have to go to the United States in transit to another destination)
- your stay on US soil should not exceed 90 days
- if you are traveling with childrens, you have to apply for ESTA for them.
In most cases, you will receive an answer within a few seconds of the request. Answers may be of three types:
- authorization approved: travel authorized
- travel not authorized: traveler must obtain a nonimmigrant visa at the Embassy or Consulate of the United States, before traveling to the United States
- authorization being granted: the traveler will have to check the ESTA website within 72 hours, to get the final answer
For this reason, it is important to apply for your ESTA as soon as the trip is planned. There are no conditions of emergency or last minute that receive preferential treatment. All requests are treated in the same way (presumably in order of arrival).
If the ESTA is denied, then you are forced to apply for a visa at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country.
WARNING: having received the ESTA does not guarantee in any way the entry to the US on arrival. ESTA approval only authorizes a traveler to board the means of transport en route to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (for more information, visit www.CBP.gov/travel).
How To Apply For ESTA?
ESTA is sought and granted prior to boarding the means of transport, air or sea, en route to the United States.
It is advisable, therefore, to submit the required form at least 72 hours before departure. To make a request, you have two choices.
Option 1: ESTA DIY (Do-It Yourself)
If you have time available and want to save some money, you can apply for ESTA at website of the US government www.cbp.gov and fill out the appropriate application online. The site supports several languages. The application or application form requires the entry of personal data, passport data, the contact details of contact, travel details (city of arrival and departure, flight number and airline, address where you will be living in the US) some information about previous requests ESTA, on your physical condition and legal, health status and any convictions, etc.
All fields to be filled are provided with explanation (just click on the question mark).
The cost is $ 14, payable online by credit card.
Option 2: Use Professional Services
If you do not feel comfortable filling in the online application for the ESTA, you can use a professional service, that will do it for you. An example is Estas.net, which provides assistance and advice to anyone who is planning a trip to the US and must request an ESTA.
It may cost a bit more compared to DIY, but the benefits, in addition to saving time and greater peace of mind, are indisputable:
- online form filling and, in case of difficulty, a support from experts (via email or chat)
- data verified by experts
- assistance in recovering ESTA documents if lost
- control and updates on the status of the request
In short, a trip to the U.S. is the dream of many.
Often one gets scared by the bureaucracy, but with just a little bit of patience and the proper information on the procedures, your American dream can come true!