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ESTA Visa America: Applicant FAQs

ESTA Visa America: Applicant 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 applying for an ‘ESTA visa America’.


Who is eligible to travel visa-free with ESTA?

Traveling to the USA without first having to secure a visa is a huge advantage, but is only open to individuals who qualify under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The VWP allows nationals of participating countries 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 and pass the online security pre-screening, known as 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 currently include:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom


The following are not eligible for visa-free travel to the US:

  • 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 traveled to Cuba on or after January 12, 2021
  • Indivduals with Cuban dual nationality
  • 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


For those who cannot travel under the VWP, 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.


How do I apply for ESTA America?

Applications for ESTA are made either on the official ESTA website or using the official ESTA app. You will be asked a series of questions to determine your eligibility to travel to the US without a visa.

Each traveler intending to use the VWP must apply for and be granted ESTA authorization individually. This includes children.


How much is an ESTA for the USA?

The ESTA application costs $21 per person. The fee is payable when making your application and applies per ESTA application, not per trip.

Each individual traveler, including infants and children, will require their own ESTA and the fee is payable for each application.

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.


When do I need to apply for the ESTA visa America?

You must have secured ESTA approval before you travel to the US, and no later than 72 hours before your date of departure.

In the vast majority of applications, the result will come through immediately. It is advisable to apply with enough time in advance to address any issues, such as being denied ESTA authorization and having to secure alternative permission.


How long does ESTA America last?

ESTA approval lasts for two years or up to the date of your passport’s expiry, whichever is earlier.

Importantly, this does not mean that you can stay in the US for two years or the duration of your ESTA authorization. Entry granted under the VWP permits a maximum visit of 90 days, by which date you must leave the US.


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.

US immigration officials have the authority to question travelers at the border before allowing entry. If an individual is traveling to the US frequently under ESTA, this may lead to you being questioned by authorities as to your reasons for travel and to ensure you are complying with the VWP conditions and permissible activities.


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 and job fairs or negotiating contracts.

You cannot carry out gainful employment during your stay.

You will also not be able to stay in the USA for more than 90 days without a visa.


What are the ESTA questions?

The application covers a range of areas relating to the individual applicant and their travel plans. You will be asked questions relating to:

  • Personal information
  • Passport details
  • Eligibility for visa-free travel
  • Travel history
  • Immigration history
  • Current employment information
  • Emergency contact information
  • Purpose of travel
  • Destination information
  • Contact person in the USA


The section which causes the most confusion among travelers relates to your eligibility for ESTA authorization. If you answer ‘yes’ to any one of these ESTA eligibility questions, your application is likely to be denied and you will have to explore your options for a US visa.


Do I need to take proof of ESTA when I travel?

There is no requirement on travelers to carry a printed copy of their ESTA authorization, since ESTA is an online system accessible by border authorities. However, we advise travelers to carry a hard copy in case of any issues at the border. It is also advisable to check if the airline you are traveling with has specific rules as some require passengers to present a printed copy of their ESTA authorization.


My ESTA application has been denied – can I still travel to the US?

Non-eligibility for ESTA does not in itself render you inadmissible for entry into the US.

If you have been refused an ESTA, take advice to understand the ground(s) for denial and to identify appropriate alternative routes and visa options.


Is ESTA a visa?

No, ESTA is not a visa and does not confer any rights to enter the US. In the same way as 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.


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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