Travelling to the USA – how to apply for an ESTA
Planning on going on holiday to the USA soon? If your trip is for less than 90 days then instead of applying for a full US visa you can, under the Visa Waiver Programme, travel with an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation – more often known as ESTA.
Without an ESTA, unless you are a US passport holder or have a valid US visa, then you are not going to be allowed in the country. Thankfully, applying for an ESTA is quick and easy with the online ESTA form and filling out the application should only take around five minutes. But make sure you don’t rush and make mistakes! It’s crucial you answer all the questions accurately.
How much does an ESTA cost?
The visa costs £29.95 and can be paid for online using a variety of payment methods including Visa, PayPal, Mastercard and American Express.
It is still possible to apply for an ESTA for tourist trips and business travel in spite of the current travel restrictions and an ESTA is valid for two years from the moment it is issued. Because an ESTA application does not require exact itinerary information, you can apply for an ESTA as soon as you start planning your US holiday, provided it is not more than two years away.
Does that mean I can go on holiday to the USA?
At the moment due to coronavirus, there is a travel ban on anyone who has been to a listed country 14 days or less before travelling to the USA. This includes many European countries including the UK, Ireland, France, Germany and Spain. It is not yet known when the travel ban will be lifted.
When travel is again possible, what will my ESTA allow me to do?
Your ESTA is valid from two years from being issued and during this time – assuming there are no other restrictions – you can make unlimited trips to the USA for both holiday and business, with each trip lasting a maximum of 90 days (this includes any trips out of the USA during your time there, such as to visit Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean). You can visit family and friends, explore the country as a tourist, use the USA as a transit stop or carry out a business trip. If you want to stay longer, then you’ll need to apply for a different type of US visa ahead of your trip. And make sure you have enough time left on your passport, as when your passport expires, so does the ESTA associated with that passport.
Am I guaranteed entry with an ESTA?
Even if you have an ESTA, it doesn’t mean you have the automatic right to enter the USA – that decision rests with US immigration managed by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection. If you are planning to study in the USA, work for a US employer, try and get work in the US, invest in a US company or work as a journalist then you should apply for a different US visa. However you can work for your non-US employer for the 90-day period under an ESTA.
What kind of questions will I be asked when applying for an ESTA?
You’ll be asked for information including your name, birth day and passport number and expiry data. You will also have to answer questions about any previous arrests or convictions, past visa applications, whether you have been deported from the USA before or whether you have any communicable diseases.
How can I apply for an ESTA?
Applying online is easy. You can apply directly with the Department of Homeland Security or apply via third parties such as e-Visa 24 hours a day. If you apply via e-visa they say that they’ll take most of the work and pressure out of your hands, and they have a full refund policy. You can also apply for several people at the same time if you are travelling in a group.
When will I be told if I’ve been successful?
Once your ESTA has been granted, you will be told by e-mail and text message. This can happen almost straightway for urgent applications – there is an urgent check box you can tick if your ESTA is needed immediately, meaning you can apply on route to the airport for those last minutes journeys – or even at the airport! However it is recommended that you apply at least 72 hours in advance.
How does it work once I’ve been approved?
Your means of transport into the US – such as an airline, or cruise operator – will check that you have a valid ESTA before you board your plane or cruise ship. (There is an additional visa required if you are coming by land from Canada or Mexico). Once you arrive in the US, you will have to show that you are planning to leave the US within the 90 day period, such as by showing a valid return or transit ticket. If you are considered a threat to the safety of the US, then you can be refused entry even if you have a valid ESTA or US visa.
This article was written in partnership with e-Visa.co.uk – the online visa services provider
Have you successfully applied for an ESTA? Then why not check out my article on Las Vegas, one of the most popular US destinations: More things to do in Vegas besides gambling