What is ESTA? - ESTAForm.org

What is ESTA?

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An ESTA stands for "Electronic System for Travel Authorization" and is a system introduced by the US Government to improve travel security in relation to persons entering the US borders. An ESTA involves providing information that will be assessed to decide whether the applicant is eligible to travel to the USA without the requirement for a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (commonly known as ESTA) is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of a visitor to travel the United States. The ESTA is part of the Visa Waiver Program developed by the US Department of Homeland Security. Authorization via ESTA does not guarantee admission into the US.
You will still have to follow the due process at the US port.
The core purpose of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization is to prevent travellers with bad intentions from entering the United States. With the ESTA, the US Customs and Border Protection agency knows who wants to travel into the country beforehand. As a result, unwanted travellers can easily be detected and denied access.

What Does an ESTA allow you to do?

The ESTA offers you a lot of benefits like:
  • You can travel anywhere in the US without a visa.
  • The ESTA is faster, easier, and cheaper to apply for compared to the regular US visa.
  • The ESTA allows for urgent travel. The regular visa application can take weeks or even months to process. On the other hand, the ESTA can be processed online in about ten minutes.

Can Anyone apply for the ESTA?

No, not everyone is eligible to apply for the ESTA. To apply for the ESTA, you must meet the following requirements:
  • You must be a citizen or a national of any of the Visa Waiver Program countries.
  • You currently do not have any visitor’s visa
  • You are only planning to stay for 90 days or less
  • You are traveling for business or tourism

What do you need to apply for the ESTA?

Though the ESTA application is easier and faster than the regular visa, certain things are still expected of you. These are:
  • A valid e-passport from a Visa Waiver Program country.
  • A valid means of payment (MasterCard, American Express, VISA, among others) to pay the $21 application fee
  • Your valid contact information
  • Your recent employment information (if any)

How to Apply for an ESTA

You can apply for ESTA online, and the form is straightforward and can be completed in a matter of minutes. Usually, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recommends that you fill in and submit your form at least 72 hours before you are due to start your journey to the USA, but because the system is automated, your application is normally processed quickly and is usually reviewed in minutes.
If your application is accepted, the ESTA form grants you an approved authorization prior to traveling to the US without a visa. However, authorization via ESTA does not determine whether you can enter the United States - CBP officers will decide upon your arrival what ESTA allows for biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions to be collected. It is not a visa and does not meet the requirements to serve instead of a visa in the U.S.
It is now mandatory for all citizens of VWP countries to obtain ESTA when traveling to or even through the USA by air or sea, provided the trip is for 90 days or less, and the purpose of the trip is for business or pleasure. Outside of these parameters, a visa shall be required. The requirement extends to all persons traveling, including children and infants.

What is the Validity Period of my ESTA?

Your authorised ESTA is valid for 2 years, and during this period, you can make any number of 90-day trips for business or tourism, provided your passport does not expire in this period. Your ESTA will also become invalid if you overstay the 90 days. Certain changes in your circumstances and personal details can invalidate your authorization, including your legal name, citizenship, and criminal record. Some changes might mean that you can no longer travel under ESTA, so you should check if it is still valid by reading the the relevant information on the website before you travel.

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.

Related FAQs

What is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which allows citizens of specific countries (to see the full list of countries, click here) to travel to the U.S. under certain conditions without the need to obtain a visa.

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When should I apply for ESTA?

You can apply for ESTA any time you like but the U.S. government generally recommends people to apply for ESTA 72 hours before their trip. Even though an ESTA can take just minutes or even seconds to be approved, there are some applications that can take the full 72 hours to process.

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How long is my data stored?

Your ESTA application data remains active for the amount of time that your approved ESTA is valid, or until your passport expires, whichever date comes first. The Department of Homeland Security then keeps this information for a further year, after which it is archived for 12 years.

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