ESTA Visa America: FAQs
Whether you’re planning a vacation or a short business trip, we look at some of the questions we’re often asked about visa-free travel to the US and the ‘ESTA visa America’.
What is ESTA and the Visa Waiver Program?
For those who are eligible, travelling to the USA without first having to secure a visa is a huge advantage.
Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), nationals of participating countries (currently 38) are permitted to travel to the USA for tourism or business-related purposes for up to 90 days without requiring a visa, provided they hold a valid e-passport from their VWP country.
If you intend to travel to the US via air or sea carrier under the Visa Waiver Program, and you qualify, you will first need to undergo security pre-screening through the ESTA application process.
Who needs to apply?
Each traveller intending to use the VWP must apply for and be granted ESTA authorization individually. This includes children.
How do I apply for ESTA America?
The ESTA application is an online form. You will be asked a series of questions to determine your eligibility to travel to the US without a visa.
What are the ESTA questions?
The application covers a range of areas relating to the individual applicant and their travel plans:
- Personal information
- Passport details
- Travel history
- Immigration history
- Current employment information
- Emergency contact information
- Purpose of travel
- Destination information
- Contact person in the USA
When do I need to apply for the ESTA visa America?
You should have secured ESTA approval before you travel to the US. If you expect no issues with your application, you can apply up to 3 days in advance of travel. In the vast majority of applications, the result will come through immediately.
How much is an ESTA for America?
To apply, ESTA costs $14 per person. This is made up of a $10 authorization charge and $4 processing fee. The fee is payable when making your application and applies per ESTA application – not per trip.
Note that if your payment card is not in US Dollars, the fee will usually be converted into Dollars at the prevailing currency exchange rate at the time of payment.
How long does ESTA America last?
ESTA approval lasts two years or up to the date of your passport’s expiry, whichever is earlier.
Importantly, this does not grant the holder permission to remain in the US for two years. Entry granted under the VWP permits a maximum stay of 90 days.
How many trips is ESTA valid for?
ESTA is valid for unlimited trips during the period of validity, provided the holder’s details and circumstances remain the same and the trip qualifies under the VWP.
Do I need to take proof of ESTA when I travel?
In theory, you shouldn’t need to take a printed copy of your ESTA approval as it is an online system accessible by border authorities. However, there are many advantages to taking a copy with you, in the event of any issues at the border.
Can I use ESTA to travel to the US for business?
You can rely on ESTA to travel to the US visa-free, provided your intended business activity qualifies under the VWP, for example:
- Attending exhibitions, conferences, meetings, consultations, job fairs
- Negotiating contracts
You cannot carry out gainful employment during your stay.
You will not be able to stay in the USA for more than 90 days without a visa.
Who can apply for ESTA?
To qualify for visa-free travel to the US, you must be a national of a country that participates in the VWP. Eligible countries include:
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Who can’t apply for ESTA?
Not everybody is eligible for ESTA. Those who are excluded include:
- Individuals travelling to study or take up paid employment in the US
- Nationals of non-VWP countries
- Nationals of VWP countries who hold dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria
- Nationals of VWP countries who have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and/or Yemen, since March 2011 (diplomats and military personnel exempt)
- Individuals who have previously been denied entry at the US border or deported from the US
- Individuals who have previously broken US immigration laws eg ‘overstayers’
- Individuals who have committed a crime involving moral turpitude
- Individuals suffering from a communicable disease
In such instances, an application will need to be made to the US consular for a relevant visa and where applicable, a waiver may also be required to address the grounds for inadmissibility.
My ESTA application has been denied – can I still travel to the US?
Non-eligibility for ESTA does not in itself render you inadmissible. You should consider options to apply for a visa for permission to travel to the US.
If you have been refused an ESTA, take advice to understand the ground(s) for denial and to identify appropriate alternative routes.
Is ESTA a visa?
No, ESTA is not a visa and does not confer any rights to enter the US. In the same way a US visa does not guarantee entry into the US, ESTA holders will also be subject to immigration control at the border.
I already have a US visa – do I still need ESTA authorization?
ESTA is required specifically for visa-free entry to the USA. If you have applied for, and hold, a valid US visa suitable for your purpose of travel, you will not need to hold separate ESTA approval.
Can I apply for ESTA without confirmed travel plans?
You can apply for ESTA authorization without specific travel plans. It is good practice to apply well in advance, even before you have made travel plans, to ensure you have the required permissions in place before travel.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.