How long does it take to obtain an ESTA?

How long does it take to obtain an ESTA?

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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 a 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 for 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 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 plan to work in the US, you will require a working visa.

Completing the online form

The ESTA is applied 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 does ESTA require?

The mandatory information is all marked with an asterisk. You need to provide all the required information.
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 toregarding your application).
  • Questions related to health and any criminal conviction plus the purpose of your trip.

How long in advance should I apply for ESTA?

It is recommended to submit your ESTA application at least 72 hours before travelling. However, if possible, you should apply before you book your trip to ensure that you can deal with any delays without cancelling your trip.
Issues can arise, such as if you type the wrong information. For example, you may need to send another application in to get your ESTA approved, as only specific details can be updated in your application.
If your ESTA is refused, 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 ten days after submitting your first application, so 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, you must wait for a response from the US authorities to confirm whether it has been approved.
While it can sometimes 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.
You can send a new application ten days later if your ESTA is refused. We recommend submitting it two weeks before travelling if you have mistaken your 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 automaticallylinked to your passport.
  • Authorisation refused - They have reviewed the answers you provided and deemed that you are notpermitted to have  an ESTA. Your alternative options here are to re-apply after ten 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, it is likely to be refused for any other visa application.
  • Authorisation pending - Your application is still being reviewed, and a decision should followwithin 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?

If your application was submitted, you should have 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 in ESTA processing

There are significant 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, you must take every possible measure to ensure your ESTA is approved within the time 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 paymenthas been processed

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. 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 re-applying 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.

How Long Does an ESTA Last?

An ESTA allows citizens from countries within the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to visit the United States for business or tourism purposes without obtaining a visa. Currently, there are 40 members of the Visa Waiver Program, with the Department of Homeland Security constantly reviewing the countries admitted into the VWP.
Using an ESTA instead of a visa is hugely beneficial to tourists from Visa Waiver Program countries. Firstly, it is much quicker to process an ESTA than to process a visa. That means that travellers can usually apply for an ESTA shortly before their trip and still have the travel authorisation to enter the United States.

Duration of ESTA Approval

When somebody applies for an ESTA, provided that their passport is valid for two years, the ESTA will also have validity for two years.
However, once an ESTA has been approved, the ESTA holder can visit the US on multiple occasions using that same ESTA.
There are no official restrictions regarding how long a person should leave between visits to the US. However, if they have stayed for the full 90 days, they will usually need to allow another 12 months before using their ESTA again.
The purpose of the ESTA is for short term visits to the US. Therefore, anybody wanting to visit for a longer term should apply for the relevant visa.
Customs and Border Protection will look at how regularly someone is visiting the US using an ESTA and may prevent them from entering the country.
For example, they can apply for a tourist visa but would not be allowed to work and study. Anyone looking to visit the US to work there would need to get an employment visa. There is also a separate student visa for people wishing to study in the US

ESTA application time

The ESTA application takes around 10 to 15 minutes to complete and submit. There is just a short form with several sections that require completing with information such as passport details and contact details. When the application is submitted, the applicant will receive an automated email confirming receipt of the ESTA application.
Once the Department of Homeland Security has screened the applicant's details, they will usually respond within 24 to 72 hours. In many cases, it can take just a few minutes to receive a response to the application.
The Department of Homeland Security team that processes the ESTAs can be busier at some parts of the year, for example, when it is coming up to the holiday season, so at these times, the processing of an ESTA may take longer.
Even though applicants are advised to give at least 72 hours before travel to apply for their ESTA, there would be no time to apply for a visa if the ESTA gets declined.
Suppose the applicant thinks they could have any issue with their application due to any medical conditions, criminal convictions, or anything else used in the eligibility criteria. In that case, it is better if they apply as early as possible. That allows them to still apply for a visa if an ESTA is (declined).

Extending US stay by visiting nearby countries

The Customs Border Protection agents will be checking for what can be seen as an abuse of the system, where travellers try to extend their time in the US by visiting neighbouring countries.
If you overstay the 90 days limit, you could face not being allowed to obtain an ESTA in the future and risk not being able to revisit the US for some time or even forever.

Renewing your ESTA in the US

Someone can't renew their ESTA whilst in the US. A travel authorisation is required before entering the US, and it is not possible to extend an ESTA.
When it expires, or the linked passport expires, the person must apply for a new ESTA for the next time that they wish to travel to the US.
There is no way to extend an existing ESTA.
It would be best to get a new ESTA that will electronically link to the new passport. When the traveller is at the Customs Border Control, the CBP agents will be able to check on their system that a valid ESTA is linked to the passport.

Written by Abisola Fikayomi

Abisola is an accomplished writer interested in US Travel, immigration, passports and visas. She’s passionate about exploring new places and cultures and willing to share her experiences, expertize and findings with others. That is her primary drive for specialising in this industry.

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