Are you planning a trip to the USA and have already booked your plane tickets? If so, you should make sure that you have prepared for your trip by remembering to bring other official documents that are essential for this type of trip and that will be required when you board your plane and when you arrive in the USA. In this article, we will explain these essential documents without which you will not be able to carry out your travel plans and also explain how you can obtain them as quickly as possible.
What documents should you bring with you to the USA?
Entering the USA requires some administrative preparation and you should ensure that you have the necessary documents for your trip. It is important to note here that each traveller accompanying you must have these documents in their possession. This also applies to children on family trips, including babies. These documents will be requested and checked both when you board your flight to the USA and when you arrive on American soil. Of course, if you do not have these documents, you will be denied boarding or entry into the USA, even if you have already booked your flight.
So let's get down to basics with the documents that are essential for your stay. The first document you need to have in your possession is of course a valid passport, valid for your entire stay in the USA. But that's not all. You also need an ESTA. For some years now, it has not been absolutely necessary to have a visa to enter the USA. As we will explain in more detail below, the ESTA is an electronic travel authorisation that is much easier and quicker to obtain than a visa and that will allow you, under certain conditions, to travel to the USA without having to apply for a classic visa.
Please also note that if you are travelling with your child without a second parent, you must have the family record book and an exit permit signed by the second parent.
What is the ESTA authorisation to travel to the USA?
In addition to your valid passport, you will need to present another official document to travel to the USA, namely an ESTA travel authorization. A visa is no longer required if you wish to travel to the USA, as a new system was introduced a few years ago which greatly simplifies the procedures for travellers to the USA.
The term ESTA actually stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. This ESTA is of course essential to be able to board a flight to the United States if you do not have a visa. This system only concerns requests from travellers who meet certain criteria, which are detailed below:
The applicant's country of residence: the ESTA system was set up by the United States with certain countries only. It is therefore necessary to be a national of one of the member countries of this system to benefit from it. To date, 38 countries are part of this system, including France, Belgium, Switzerland and other countries in the world that have accepted the terms of this contract. You must therefore be a citizen of one of these countries to apply for an ESTA. These travellers do not need a visa to travel to the USA.
On the other hand, the duration of stay in the USA authorised by this ESTA travel authorisation is also limited. This system only works for stays of less than 90 days, i.e. more or less 3 months. For longer stays, you must of course apply for a regular visa.
The purpose of your trip is also important if you want to take advantage of the ESTA. The ESTA only applies to travel to the USA for tourism, business or to visit a relative. Also, if you wish to travel to the United States to work, to reside permanently or to study, you will need to apply for a specific visa.
Finally, you must also have a valid biometric or electronic passport. You will not be able to obtain this travel authorisation with a simple identity card, and this for several good reasons. Firstly, the passport is an essential document for travel to any country outside the European Union and therefore essential for the United States. Secondly, your ESTA authorisation will be automatically and electronically linked to your passport. It is not a physical document and the officials in charge of carrying out the various checks during your trip will only be able to check your ESTA by reading your passport on computer. Please ensure that the passport number you provide when applying for an ESTA is the same as the one you will present during your trip. If you intend to renew your passport before your trip, wait until you have your new passport before applying for ESTA. It is also important to note that the expiry date of your passport is important. Your passport must be valid at least until the end of your trip. If this is not the case, you can renew your passport before it expires.
Once obtained, your ESTA authorisation will be valid for two years. This means that you will be able to travel to the USA several times without having to renew your ESTA authorisation if your different trips comply with the conditions set out above. It is also important that none of the information you provided in your application has changed for your ESTA to remain valid.
How do I apply for an ESTA to travel to the USA?
As we have just seen, the ESTA, along with the passport, is an essential document for any trip to the USA. So let's see how you can obtain this travel authorisation. As the name suggests, the ESTA is an electronic system, which means that the entire procedure is done directly online and that you do not have to go anywhere to obtain it.
All you need is a computer and an Internet connection. Start by going to an application website such as the one we recommend on this site, and access the online application form. You will need to fill in some personal details such as your full identity, address and passport number and a valid email address.
You will then be asked to answer a number of questions about your criminal history, health, previous travels and reasons for coming to the USA.
Once the form has been completed and verified, you will be able to validate your application by making an online payment of the required fees. This payment is made directly online by credit card and of course on a secure server.
You will then receive a reply to your application within 72 hours directly by email. If your ESTA is granted, you will not have to do anything else since, as explained above, this authorisation will be automatically attached to your passport. It is therefore not necessary to print out your application unless you wish to keep a written record of it, especially if you plan to travel several times.
If your application has been refused, you have the option of submitting another application within 10 days of being notified of the refusal, or of applying for a regular visa if the refusal is due to a failure to comply with the conditions outlined above.
It is important to note that all travellers to the USA must have this authorisation or a regular visa, even children or babies.
Are there any other documents that are useful when planning a trip to the USA?
We have just seen together which are the two indispensable official documents that you must bring for your trip to the USA, namely your ESTA or Visa and your passport. But is it useful to have other documents?
You can of course take out insurance before travelling to the USA. This is of course not compulsory, but could be useful if you are staying in the country for several months. For example, make sure that your insurance includes coverage for medical care or repatriation assistance.
You can also take your driving licence with you if you want to rent a car on the spot and visit several states. Note here that the French licence is perfectly valid in the United States and that you will therefore be able to use it legally. The car rental company will ask you for it.
It is also a good idea to take another form of identification with you, in case you lose your passport during your trip. So remember to take your national identity card even if it will not be of any use to you in obtaining the right to enter the United States, as only a passport will authorise you to do so.
Finally, remember to make photocopies of all your important documents (passport, hotel reservations, plane tickets, etc.) and put them in different luggage. This will prevent you from finding yourself at a loss if you lose any of your luggage during your trip or while travelling in the country.