Individuals who are VISA waiver program travelers are required to have an approved travel authorization from Homeland Security, which is called ESTA. This allows those with a VISA board a plane or vessel headed to the United States.
Having an ESTA does not guarantee entry into the United States. Once in the U.S., individuals must establish their eligibility to be in the country during the inspection process by a port of entry officer.
About the VISA Waiver Program
The VISA waiver program is a program of the U.S. government. It enables citizens and nationals to enter the country if they are coming from any of the approved 38 countries.
The benefit of being in the VISA waiver program (VWP) is that you can travel to the U.S. whenever you’d like without having to go through the process of getting the VISA. However, anyone who is travelling by air or sea will need to apply and receive a travel authorization (ESTA).
Who Must Apply for a ESTA
You must apply for an ESTA if:
- You are in the VWP.
- You do not have a visitor’s visa.
- You’re traveling in the U.S. for 90 days or less.
- You’re planning to visit the U.S. for business or trouble.
- You want a new authorization for someone or a group of people.
All foreign individuals, except those living in Canada with a Canadian passport, must apply for an ESTA. If you’re a landed immigrant of Canada, you do need to have an ESTA if you enter the U.S. via plane or boat.
Applying for the ESTA
The application fee is $14, which can be accepted with credit card or PayPal. You will need a passport from your Visa Waiver Program country. You must disclose your most recent employment and contact information.
How Long Does ESTA Last?
The travel authorization can last up to two years if it is not revoked. It can also expire if your passport expires, so whichever comes first. ESTA can be used for multiple trips. If the ESTA expires while travelling in the U.S., it will not affect departure from the country.
When a New ESTA Is Needed
A new ESTA is needed when a new passport is issued. Name and gender changes require a new ESTA as well. During the application process, if any of the answers to the questions have changed, a new ESTA is needed.
ESTA comes under the VISA Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. This act prevents the following people from entering the United States under the VWP.
- Nationals from the following countries:
Individuals from these countries can still apply for a visa, but must go through the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Urgent business, medical or humanitarian travel can be expedited.
Exceptions are only for individuals who have diplomatic or military presence. If the ESTA is denied, the person can go to the CBP website. The person can also apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Updates to Passport Identification
Passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the departure date. Families travelling to the U.S. need to have valid passports, even infants and children.
Starting April 1, 2016, everyone in VWP must have an e-passport. This is an enhanced secure passport that has an embedded electronic chip. The chip can be scanned, which will be connected to the traveler. All e-Passports should be issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). There is an international symbol on all valid e-passports. All emergency passports must be e-passports to be approved for entry into the country.
How ESTA Protects America
ESTA helps the U.S. know where individuals are traveling from before they board a U.S. bound carrier. High-risk individuals (those who pose a threat to the country) will not be approved for an ESTA, and thus, will not be able to board a U.S. bound vessel or aircraft.
The ESTA is an extra layer of protection for those individuals trying to come to the country without a VISA. This was instated after the 9/11 attacks in which three planes were taken over by terrorists caused great devastation for Americans. This led legislation to require stricter regulations in who could travel to the country.
For more information on VWP and ESTA, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website or the United States Travel Authorization Application website.