The ESTA replaces the visa for touristic visits to the United States:
A few years ago, organising a touristic visit to the USA brought many challenges in terms of complicated and fastidious administrative procedures to complete in order to obtain a visa. However the American government has now implemented a simplified procedure to visit the USA for touristic reasons through the ESTA visa waiver programme. The acronym ESTA represents ‘Electronic System for Travel Authorisation’. The objective of this new procedure is to simplify the procedure for applying and obtaining a travel authorisation for tourists and also to facilitate the processing of such applications by the American immigration authorities.
Contrary to applications for a standard visa, an ESTA application is completed and submitted directly online through the completion and submission of a simple form. There is no need to visit an Embassy or consulate with various papers and documents as everything is completed electronically or digitally as we will explain later in more detail.
Important! It should be noted that an ESTA travel authorisation is only relevant for visits to the USA for tourism or visiting friends or family. Other reasons for visiting America such as working or studying require you to complete a standard visa application. Later on in this article we shall be examining the other conditions applicable to benefit from this ESTA authorisation.
Finally, compared to a classic visa, an ESTA authorisation enables you to organise a visit to the United States more easily and in a faster more efficient manner as a response to your application will be sent to you by email within a maximum of only 72 hours.
An ESTA for a transit or stopover in the USA:
However, an ESTA authorisation has not got the sole objective of enabling visitors to travel to the United States for tourism. This authorisation can also be used when you travel to another destination but your plane completes a transit or stopover in an American airport.
In fact, when your plane lands in America you must possess this authorisation to enter American territory, even if you do not leave the plane or the airport. An ESTA or other travel authorisation is therefore obligatory for all travellers in this situation that fulfil the required conditions.
It should be noted that your ESTA authorisation should, in the case of a transit or stopover in the USA, be valid for the outgoing and return travel which is generally the case as an ESTA is valid for a period of two years from its approval date. However in certain specific cases it will be necessary to renew an ESTA before or during your visit abroad in order to comply with the American immigration laws during both your outgoing and return travel and thereby ensure your entry and exit of American territory goes smoothly. This situation is of course covered in more detail elsewhere on this website with practical advice and explanations.
What are the eligibility conditions for an online ESTA application?
As we have just explained, an ESTA authorisation can enable you to visit the USA easily without having to complete a visa application if you simply wish to visit the country or visit friends or family there. However, as we indicated earlier, there are certain conditions that need to be fulfilled to benefit from this visa waiver programme. Let us now examine these conditions.
Firstly, as summarised earlier on, the ESTA is only applicable for certain types of visit to the USA and not all the reasons for a visit to this country are acceptable. For example, you can use this electronic travel authorisation for tourism or to visit friends or family. An ESTA is also acceptable for business visits as long as you represent a company situated in your home country. If you hope to be employed by an American company, even for a training course, then you cannot use an ESTA to travel to the United States and will need to apply for a specific visa to have the right to exercise a business activity in this country. This is the same if you wish to study in the United States, there is also a specific visa for this so you can follow your dream.
Apart from the reason for your visit, you should know that ESTA authorisations are only applicable for visits in the United States of less than 90 days. If your visit is for longer then you will need to hold a visa. In all cases, you cannot board a flight for the USA if you plan to stay for longer than three months, even if you intend to apply for a visa after the 90 day period.
It should also be noted that one of the major conditions to be eligible to apply and benefit from the ESTA simplified travel authorisation is to be a resident of one of the member countries of this programme. In fact, when this new programme was implemented the United States signed an agreement with various countries including many in Europe although certain countries elsewhere in the world are excluded. You may of course consult the full list of the ESTA programme member countries on this website or the official American government website. You must live permanently in one of these member countries and hold a relevant passport from that country to be able to benefit from this visa waiver programme.
To conclude, you should also possess a valid biometric or electronic passport if you wish to use the ESTA programme to visit the USA. Your ESTA authorisation will be linked electronically to this passport number which is why you need to supply this when you apply for your travel authorisation online.
Of course, here we are simply stating the general conditions you must fulfil to be eligible to complete the ESTA application form online. This means that even if you fulfil these conditions it is not certain that you will obtain a positive response to your application. The decision to approve or refuse your travel authorisation application lies with the authorities responsible for examining these applications, therefore the American immigration authorities, and the approval or refusal of your ESTA depends greatly on the answers you give on your online application form.
What is the procedure for applying online for an ESTA for the USA?
As you have no doubt understood, the application procedure for an ESTA authorisation for the United States is completed directly online without the requirement to visit any official offices which is generally the case for visa applications. You also do not need to provide any documents or papers, just ensure you have your passport close at hand when you complete the questionnaire.
From a website such as ours you will be able to access the ESTA application form online which is available in numerous languages to ensure you can clearly and easily understand the questions asked.
Concerning the completion of this form, it is fairly simple and should only take a few minutes to complete. The first part concerns your identity and your personal situation. In particular you will be asked to enter your full name, your date of birth, your address and your marital and professional situations. You will also be required to state a valid email address (it is to this address that the reply to your application will be sent) as well as your electronic or biometric passport number, this passport should be valid when you apply and for the visit itself.
The second part of the application form consists of a series of questions regarding preceding visits, your state of health and your legal situation. Your answers to these questions will be used to evaluate your general profile and confirm that you comply with the relevant criteria to obtain the right to travel to the USA.
Once you have completed the form, paying attention that you have replied to every question carefully and honestly, you will have the opportunity to check through all your answers before submitting your application. When you do this you will need to make a payment which includes the processing fee required by the American government as well as the transfer costs. This payment can only be completed online using a credit or debit card or your PayPal or other online account.
You then have nothing further to do as everything from that point on is completed automatically. A clear and definitive response will be sent to you by email to the address you gave on your application form within a maximum of 72 hours although in the majority of cases this response is much faster than that. This email will indicate if your ESTA application has been approved or refused.
It should also be noted that if you travel with your family then you can complete an ESTA application for all your family members at the same time. It should be remembered that even children under the age of 18, however young they are, still require a travel authorisation to enter American territory.
How to present or use an ESTA when you travel to the United States:
Once the ESTA application procedure has been completed online and if you receive a positive response to your application then you will not need any other documents apart from your passport to travel to the United States.
In fact, an ESTA could be described as a type of paper free or virtual visa which is actually a travel authorisation that is linked electronically or digitally to your passport. Therefore, when airport personnel or customs or immigration agents in the USA scan your passport your travel authorisation will appear on their monitor together with the date it was obtained and the date it expires. This of course greatly simplifies the administrative aspects of your visit as you do not have to worry about carrying another important document around with you.
To you, this ESTA authorisation is totally invisible. In fact, contrary to the older style visa which was stamped on one of your passport pages, an ESTA cannot be seen at all; only the digital devices used by border officials and other authorities to read passports can detect it.
However, and even if it is not necessary to produce this document during your visit, it can be useful to keep a written note of it in the form of a paper copy. This will enable you firstly to have a copy in case of problems and also know the validity dates of your ESTA at all times, including its expiry date. On this document you will also find your reference number which can be useful if you wish to modify certain authorised information on your ESTA or consult its status online. To keep a written copy of this document you have a choice open to you. Firstly you can simply print the email you received following your online application directly from your email inbox. However you can also, on certain ESTA application websites such as the one we recommend here, request that a paper copy of your ESTA authorisation is sent to you by normal mail, supplementary to your confirmation email. This option is available for a small fee to cover costs and postage and can be very useful if you are unable to print the confirmation email at your home.
The validity of your ESTA authorisation and its renewal:
Maybe you already know that once you have obtained your ESTA authorisation you can actually use it for numerous visits or transits through the USA. This is because your ESTA is valid for a two year period from the time of its approval. This therefore means that you can reuse it for future visits to the USA, as many times as you wish in fact during this period of validity.
Of course, to do so you will still need to fulfil the conditions that we stated above, these notably include that your visit is for touristic purposes and not work or study and the length of your visit is for no more than 90 days. This is the same for a transit or stopover as an ESTA can also be used for these instances as well as normal visits whatever the reason stated in your initial application. If these conditions are met then you will not need to apply again online or pay the associated transfer and processing fees as your ESTA will still be linked electronically to your passport.
It is also important to state here that a change in your personal situation may require the renewal of your ESTA during its two year validity period. This of course may relate to a change in your legal identity, a change of address or a major change in your personal or professional situation. Accordingly, it is therefore logical that if your passport has been renewed, following its expiry, a theft or the loss of this legal document, then you will also need to renew your ESTA application. It should be remembered here that your ESTA is actually digitally or electronically linked to your passport so when you renew your passport the existing ESTA will not be associated with the new passport number. We will of course go into further detail elsewhere on this website concerning the specific cases whereby the renewal of your ESTA authorisation is required.
Of course, when the expiry date of your ESTA is reached this travel authorisation is no longer valid. It should be noted that an ESTA authorisation is not renewed automatically; it is up to you to reapply. To be precise, once its validity period has expired, the ESTA information will electronically disappear from your passport details and nothing will appear relating to it on the monitors of the relevant officials. You will therefore need to complete the entire procedure again by completing the ESTA application form online as you did before. You will of course once again need to pay the transfer and processing fees relating to this application.
The other solutions possible in the case of a refusal to an ESTA application to travel to the USA:
Among the most frequent questions asked by people that wish to visit the USA using an ESTA authorisation concerns the subject of a refusal. It must be said that applying for an ESTA online and fulfilling the required conditions relating to nationality, the reason and length of stay still does not guarantee that you will be able to obtain this well known travel authorisation, you may still receive a negative reply by email.
Firstly, relating to the reason for this refusal, unfortunately you will not learn more from the American authorities responsible for reviewing your application as the email you receive will simply indicate that your application has been refused. It is therefore up to you to reflect on what may be the reason behind this refusal and then act appropriately. Depending on the reason for the refusal of your ESTA you may still be able to continue with your plans to visit the USA.
In fact if you think that you simply made a mistake when completing the application form then you do have the opportunity of reapplying. However you will need to wait for a ten day period following the refusal before completing and submitting this second application online. If the refusal is simply due to an error then there is a strong possibility that your new application will be accepted and you can visit the United States using your ESTA.
However in other cases, a refusal of your ESTA application can be due to other reasons. This could be an incompatibility of your application with the conditions of eligibility for this simplified programme as we have previously mentioned, or a personal judicial or professional situation that does not respond to the eligibility criteria for entering American territory. In this case you have the possibility of applying for a traditional visa to continue with your travel plans to the USA. The fact that you have been refused an ESTA does not mean that you will not be able to obtain a visa. The best thing is therefore to apply as soon as possible to ensure you have enough time for this longer procedure if it should be necessary.
The good news is that our partner will fully refund your transfer fee in the case of a refusal of your ESTA application by the authorities if you applied online using the application form available on our website.
If you have other questions or queries relating to your ESTA travel authorisation to visit the USA then you will find lots of advice and information in the various complete and detailed articles available in this section of our website.