How long does ESTA take?
As a non-US national you may be eligible to travel to the United States visa-free under ESTA. The following guide looks at the meaning of ESTA, who is eligible to apply and how long the application process takes.
In most cases, a response will be received within seconds of submitting an ESTA application. In circumstances where it says “application pending”, this means that the information provided on your form is being reviewed.
ESTA applications can often be flagged for additional security checks, where a pending ESTA application signifies that additional screening is needed to process your application so as to ensure you do not pose a security or immigration risk.
You will usually be notified of the final decision on your application within 72 hours, although the majority of decisions on ESTA applications are reached within 48 hours. However, whilst your ESTA application is pending, you are not authorised to travel to the United States.
Is ESTA travel right for you?
ESTA stands for the “Electronic System for Travel Authorization”. This refers to the authorisation granted to an eligible foreign citizen to travel to the United States without a visa under what’s known as the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
The VWP permits citizens of 38 partner countries to travel to the US for tourism or business without needing a visa for a period of up to 90 days. In return, those 38 countries must permit US citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes.
Where eligible under the VWP, ESTA is essentially the automated system used to screen foreign citizens before they travel to the United States, and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.
Under the VWP you are only permitted to remain in the United States for a period of up to 90 days. However, once authorisation has been granted under ESTA you can use this several times, in other words, for several separate trips to the US without having to re-apply.
However, there should be a reasonable amount of time between visits to avoid any accusations that you may be using ESTA to reside in the United States, albeit on a temporary basis. The authorisation granted under ESTA is for a period of two years, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.
To check whether or not any previous authorisation under ESTA remains valid, you will need to visit the ESTA website to check the status of your authorisation and its validity period using your original application number. In the event that you no longer have this number, you can retrieve this through the website using your name, address, date of birth and passport number.
Who is eligible for ESTA?
To be eligible to travel under the VWP you must be a foreign citizen of one of the 38 participating countries, namely:
Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Republic of Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan or the United Kingdom.
You must also possess a valid electronic and machine-readable passport. These are enhanced secure passports with an embedded chip containing key biometric information about the passport holder.
How do I apply for ESTA?
Foreign citizens that qualify under the VWP must first obtain authorization to enter the US using ESTA prior to boarding a US bound air or sea carrier. You can do this by completing an online pre-registration form on the ESTA website at least 72 hours before departure. That said, VWP travellers are encouraged to apply for authorisation as soon as they begin to plan a trip to the United States.
To apply for an ESTA you will need to visit the US Department of Homeland Security’s special ESTA web page and complete the online form at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta.
Will ESTA be denied?
In some circumstances, even as a qualifying citizen of one of the 38 partner countries possessing a valid e-passport, ESTA may still be denied, not least where it is deemed that you may pose a threat to the welfare, health, safety or security of the United States.
In particular, you will be denied entry under ESTA where:
- You have been arrested for certain crimes or have a criminal record.
- You have been previously denied entry to or deported from the US, or you have previously overstayed on the VWP.
- You have a serious communicable illness.
You will also be ineligible for visa-free travel under the VWP if are a dual national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, and if you have travelled to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia or Yemen at any time since 1 March 2011.
If your ESTA application is denied you will need to apply for an appropriate visa from the US Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence. Any denial under ESTA only prohibits travel under the VWP. It is not a final determination of eligibility for a visa to travel to the United States.
Typically, you will need to apply for what’s commonly known as a visitor visa, either for business or tourism purposes, namely a B-1 or B-2 visa. However, the visa process is much more complicated than applying for ESTA and, consequently, can take much longer, causing any travel plans to be delayed.
It is therefore advisable to ensure that you are eligible for ESTA before confirming any travel bookings to avoid any unnecessary delay or wasted costs. If you attempt to reapply for ESTA with false information, this will make you permanently ineligible for travel to the United States under the VWP.
Will I need to re-apply for ESTA?
You will need to re-apply for fresh authorisation under ESTA where your previous approval has expired. You will also need fresh authorisation where:
- You are issued a new passport
- You change your name
- You change your gender
- Your country of citizenship changes
- Your circumstances change, for example, you are convicted of a crime or you develop a serious communicable illness.
In some cases, any changes in personal details may only require an update to your existing authorisation without having to reapply.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.