ESTA FAQ and Help

  • ESTA is an abbreviation of the "Electronic System for Travel Authorization" and is an online application system related to travellers from Visa Waiver Countries.
  • The VWP has made visiting the US easy for millions of visitors with a machine-readable passport. However, now the same visitors must apply for an ESTA in advance, in addition to having a machine-readable passport.
  • The application process is online, and is operated by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  • The purpose of the online application system is to let DHS pre-screen all Visa Waiver travellers before they leave their respective countries.
  • It is recommended that US-bound travellers apply for an ESTA authorisation at least 72 hours prior to departure.
  • The ESTA authorisation is not a visa. In fact, a person from a non-Visa Waiver Country should not even attempt to apply for an ESTA authorisation. All it does is to pre-screen a Visa Waiver traveller and allow him or her to travel to the US and apply for admission to enter the country.
  • An ESTA does not guarantee entry to the United States, but it is a prerequisite to travel to the US by air or sea.
  • An approved ESTA is only necessary for the purpose of travelling to the US under the VWP.
  • The online system has been available since August 1, 2008, from which date travellers could voluntarily apply for an ESTA. An approved travel authorisation is now required.
  • An ESTA is valid for two years unless your passport expires earlier. In this scenario, the passport and travel authorisation expiry date will be the same.
  • Since January 12, 2009, an ESTA travel authorisation has been mandatory for all Visa Waiver travellers intending to enter the US by air or sea.
  • Applying for a travel authorisation is not related to any visa application processes. It is a separate requirement related only to Visa Waiver travellers and their trip to the US.
  • The payment for the ESTA can be made online with a debit or credit card. The US government charges a standard fee of $14.00. However, private companies (third-party service providers) can assist with the processing of your US travel authorisation in which case they may charge an additional processing fee.
  • If you have a machine-readable passport issued between October 26, 2005 and October 25, 2006, a digital photograph must be printed on the page containing your personal data. Alternatively, the passport must have an integrated chip containing the information from the data page.
  • Canada, Mexico and Bermuda do not participate in the VWP.
  • The USA-PATRIOT Act requires all Visa Waiver travellers to have a machine-readable passport. If you are from a Visa Waiver Country but hold an old passport (non-machine-readable), you must apply for a visitor visa (B1/B2) in advance.
  • Citizens from Mexico can visit the US with a Visitor Visa or Border Crossing Card.
  • The US-VISIT Program is a series of security measures including screening of visitors, arrival of visitors and departure of visitors. The US-VISIT normally applies to all visitors holding non-immigrant visas. The US-VISIT Program is not related to any visa procedures, but only to the protection of the US borders.
  • Private aircrafts are not eligible to participate in the VWP and carry passengers to the US.

Can travellers apply through ESTA without detailed travel plans?

Yes, this is possible. VWP travellers are not required to have detailed plans to travel to the US before they apply. The flight and hotel details can be updated at any point before departure, but it is not mandatory to do so.

Are answers required in English?

No, the ESTA application can be filled out in your local language but with English characters.

What happens if a traveller is flying to the US but does not have a valid US travel authorisation?

All nationals or citizens of VWP countries who want to visit the US for temporary business or tourist reasons under the VWP will require a valid US travel authorisation prior to boarding an airplane or seagoing vessel bound for the US. VWP travellers who do not have a valid US travel authorisation may not be permitted to board.

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