Before foreign nationals travel to the USA, they need to consider a few things, including visa requirements. The US government has set different visa requirements for different nationality holders. While some citizens must obtain a valid visa to transit through the USA, others enjoy visa exemption!
Here's everything you need to know about transiting through the US if you are eligible for an ESTA!
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) - An Overview
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that determines the eligibility of travelers to visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). ESTA is an online application system that allows eligible travelers to apply for authorization to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
ESTA was implemented in 2009 as a security measure to enhance the VWP and help prevent individuals who pose a threat to the United States from entering the country. It is mandatory for all VWP travelers to obtain ESTA approval before traveling to the United States.
To be eligible for ESTA, travelers must:
Be a citizen of a VWP-participating country. The VWP currently includes 39 countries, including most of the European Union, Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
Have a valid passport from a VWP-participating country. The passport must be an electronic passport with a digital chip that contains biographic and biometric information about the holder.
Have a round-trip ticket to the United States and a clear intent to return to the country of origin or another foreign destination after a brief stay in the United States.
Have a clean criminal record and pose no threat to U.S. national security.
USA ESTA - Benefits & Limitations
Compared to a traditional transit visa, an ESTA is undoubtedly a much better option. You can obtain this travel document from the comfort of your home without visiting the US embassy. Here're some benefits and limitations regarding US ESTA:
The ESTA program offers several benefits to eligible travelers, including:
Convenience: ESTA allows travelers to apply for authorization to travel to the United States online, eliminating the need to visit a U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a visa.
Speed: ESTA applications are typically processed within 72 hours, allowing travelers to make last-minute travel plans without having to wait for a visa to be issued.
Cost-effectiveness: ESTA is less expensive than obtaining a visa, as the application fee is only $21 compared to the cost of a visa, which can range from $160 to $275 depending on the type of visa and the applicant's country of origin.
Flexibility: ESTA allows travelers to visit the United States for tourism or business purposes for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. This allows travelers to have the freedom to travel within the United States without the restrictions that may come with a visa.
While ESTA offers many benefits to eligible travelers, it is important to note that it has some limitations as well. ESTA is only available to citizens of VWP-participating countries and does not allow travelers to work or study in the United States.
Additionally, ESTA approval does not guarantee entry into the United States and is only a preliminary authorization for travel. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have the final authority to determine whether a traveler is admissible to the United States.
USA ESTA Application Process
To apply for ESTA, travelers must complete an online application form at VisaHQ. The application process is simple and takes just a few minutes to complete. Travelers must provide their personal information, such as name, date of birth, and passport details, as well as information about their trips, such as the purpose of travel and the address of their first U.S. destination.
Here's a step-by-step guide explaining how to apply for an ESTA:
complete the application form at VisaHQ
pay the embassy fee as well as the visa service fee
submit your application with supporting documents
Once the application is submitted, travelers will receive a notification of their ESTA approval or denial within 72 hours. Travelers do not need to reapply for ESTA for each trip to the United States within the two-year period as long as their passport remains valid and their personal information has not changed.
Denials and Appeals
If a traveler's ESTA application is denied, they will receive a notification explaining the reason for the denial and their appeal rights. Travelers may be denied ESTA for a variety of reasons, including having a criminal record, previously violating the terms of the VWP, or posing a threat to U.S. national security.
Travelers who are denied ESTA may appeal the decision by submitting additional information to the DHS. The DHS will review the appeal and provide a decision within 30 days. If the appeal is denied, travelers may apply for a visa through the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of origin.