How long does it take to obtain an ESTA?

An ESTA is the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation that enables visitors from countries within the Visa Waiver Program to enter the US. Before planning any trip to the US, travellers must obtain some form of visa to get permission to enter the US border. The ESTA is the form of visa that tourists or business travellers can obtain to allow a stay in the US of up to 90 days.
It is recommended that travellers start the ESTA application well in advance of their planned trip, as the process can take a while if there are any issues. The ESTA works by electronically linking to your passport, showing border security that you have a valid ESTA.
The process of applying for ESTA
The first step is to check that you have a valid passport, as if it is due for renewal your ESTA would only be valid for the time that the passport is linked to is valid. Other than through passport expiration, an ESTA will usually be valid for two years and can be used for multiple trips to the US.
Please note - An ESTA can be used for tourism and business but does not enable you to work in the US. If you are planning to work in US, then you will require a working visa.
Completing the online form
The ESTA is applied for using an online form that includes a set of questions and requires different details that will be used to determine whether you are granted your ESTA. One of the benefits of ESTA is that it does not usually take as long to process as other types of visa, as it is just for visitors.
What information is required for ESTA?
The mandatory information is all marked with an asterisk and you need to provide it all or your ESTA application cannot be completed. The information you must provide includes:
  • Full details about your identity e.g. first name, last name, DOB, place of birth.
  • valid email address (this is compulsory for them to send correspondence to regardingyour application)
  • Questions related to health and any criminal conviction plus purpose of your trip.
How long in advance should I apply for ESTA?
It is recommended to submit your ESTA application a minimum of 72 hours prior to travelling, although if possible, you should apply before you book your trip, to ensure that you can deal with any delays without needing to cancel your trip. Issues can arise, such as if you type the wrong information for example and you may need to send another application in to get your ESTA approved, as only certain details can be updated in your application.
If your ESTA is refused then this will seriously affect your travel plans as you will need to resolve the issue if possible, or not enter the US at all. Re-applying for an ESTA can only be done 10 days after submitting your first application, which is why it is recommended that you apply well in advance of your trip.
Your ESTA could be refused for a different reason other than making a mistake, for example if your travel plans do not match the purpose of ESTA and you may need to apply for an alternative type of visa, which will take much longer.
How long does it take for a response from authorities?
Once you have submitted your application and paid the fee then you must wait for a response from the USauthorities to confirm whether it has been approved. Whilst it can in some cases take just a few minutes for your application to be processed and to receive a response, it can take up to 72 hours to receive a response.
If the response is that your ESTA has been refused then you can only send a new application ten days later, which is why it is recommended to submit it at least two weeks before travelling, so that it gives you time to reapply, in the circumstance that you make a mistake on your original application.
What are the responses you can receive in your ESTA application?
When you receive your email response from the US authorities, you will have one of the following response types:
Authorisation granted - Everything has been approved and your ESTA has been automatically linked to your passport.
Authorisation refused - They have reviewed the answers you provided and deemed that you are not permitted to have an ESTA. Your alternative options here are to reapply after 10 days (if you made a mistake on your application) or you may be able to apply for a different visa type. If you have been refused based on criminal convictions, then it is likely that any other type of visa application would also be refused on the same basis.
Authorisation pending - Your application is still being reviewed and a decision should follow within the 72 hours of submitting it. It may be that you will be required to provide further information or documentation.
My ESTA hasn’t arrived in time for my trip – what do I do?
The first thing to do is to check that your administration fee went through okay, as this is required for the application to actually be submitted. If your application was correctly submitted, you should have been provided with an application number, which you can use to check the status of your application on the ESTA website. It may be that the internet connection failed and you did not submit your application, in which case you can try and submit a new application with a chance that it will go through quickly and allow you to travel.
How to avoid issues and delays on ESTA processing
Obviously, there are big consequences if you do not get your ESTA granted in time for travel, especially if you have paid for flights and even accommodation or tickets for tourist activities etc. Therefore, it is extra important that you take every possible measure to ensure your ESTA is approved within the time period you need.
Tips on avoiding ESTA processing issues:
  • Submit your application as early as possible
  • Check through your details carefully several times before submitting your application
  • Use a standard type of payment like a credit card
  • After submitting your application, check your bank account to check the payment has processed
How long is ESTA valid for?
Your ESTA will be valid for two years, or until your passport expires – whichever comes sooner. The ESTA is linked to your passport, so if your passport requires renewing within the two years then you will also be required to apply for a new ESTA if you are visiting the US.
Whilst your ESTA is valid, you are able to use it numerous times, as long as none of the information provided in your application has changed.
When should I submit my ESTA application?
The earlier you apply, the better, as it gives you more time to deal with any delays or issues. Whilst the processing time will usually be less than 72 hours, if your ESTA is refused, you will need time to try and resolve the problem, either by obtaining a different type of visa or reapplying for ESTA 10 days later, in the case of making a mistake on your original application. Ideally, you should apply a month before you are due to travel, to avoid the disappointment of a cancelled trip.