Are you a passport holder of a country that is on the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP)? You can now travel to the United States without needing a visa, but you will need ESTA.

ESTA, short for the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation is an electronic permit that allows residents of the US visa-free program to gain entry into the US, with a few conditions. The US has outlined a visa-free program (VWP) for citizens of around 39 countries, based on which they are allowed to enter the country without the need for a visa.

When can I apply for ESTA

Here are the conditions under which you can apply for ESTA

  • You will be staying in the United States for a period of a maximum of 90 days.
  • Moreover, your purpose of traveling is either a business commitment or tourism. In an instance where you need to transit via the US, you will also need ESTA.

If you intend to stay in the country for more than 90 days, even if you are a resident of a visa-free program country, you will need to apply for a visit visa via the appropriate channel. Similarly, if you want to go to the US for any purpose other than business, transit, or tourism, you will need to apply for a visa.

How to apply for ESTA

ESTA is an online permit, and you can apply for it online. The process is quite easy, and you can fill out the online application in no time. While you can submit the application for ESTA any time before your travel date, it is better to apply as soon as your travel plans are finalised. Therefore, when you plan to take the trip, apply for ESTA, so by the time you purchase your tickets, the rest of the documents are in order.

Usually, the process takes anywhere between a day to three days before your approval comes through, and you will receive an email notifying you of the same. The approval comes fairly quickly if all is well with the ESTA application and the verifying process is completed without any issues. However, in an instance where your ESTA application is denied, you will need to apply for a visa from a US consulate or embassy in your area.

Points to consider

It is important to know that ESTA is not a visa and cannot be used like one. It allows staying within the US for a maximum of 90 days only. Moreover, it does not provide a definite guarantee to enter the US. The US Customs and Border Protection will eventually determine your entry when you arrive.

Similarly, to apply for ESTA, you must have an electronic passport with a machine-readable part containing your biometric data. So if you want to apply for ESTA and have an old passport, you will need to get an electronic passport before applying.