Under the USA visa requirements, the citizens of most countries of the world need to arrange a visa before they travel to the US. However, the citizens of some countries, especially those in Europe, aren’t required to obtain a visa before they travel to the US. Citizens of the ‘visa waiver’ countries don’t have to apply for a full visa for a short trip. If you hold a passport for a visa waiver country, then you just need to apply for an ESTA authorisation to travel. This is instead of going through an entire visa application process, which needs to be done much further in advance.
What is it?
The US government uses a system called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to pre-screen visitors before they begin their journey to the US. You are required to go through the ESTA application process if you are entering the USA using the visa waiver program. The ESTA system is administered by the Department of Homeland Security, which sets the USA visa requirements.
The DHS will use your ESTA application to pre-approve your visit before you even depart for the US. This means you need to go through the ESTA application process before leaving your home country, usually at the airport at the point of departure. A successful ESTA application gives you permission to leave your country of origin and travel onwards to the USA.
ESTA requirements also state that you need to go through the process even if the US is not your eventual destination. For example, if you are flying from Europe to Canada via the US, you’ll need to complete your ESTA application anyway.
If you’re planning on travelling to the States, and you’re from a visa waiver country, then you’re advised to apply for authorisation to travel a minimum of 72 hours before your departure.
What’s the visa waiver program?
The visa waiver program allows people of some nationalities to enter the States without having to obtain a visa in advance. This means they are able to travel at short notice if required, without needing to go through the slow and cumbersome visa process. There are 38 nationalities that qualify for the program. These include countries such as the UK, and many other countries in Europe including France, Germany, and Spain. Other countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Japan, are also on the program.
What are the ESTA requirements?
First and foremost, you need to have the nationality of a visa waiver country – you need to hold a passport from one of about 40 countries on the list. You must be planning a stay of fewer than three months (if you’re travelling under ESTA authorisation, your visit cannot last longer than 90 days and there’s no possibility of obtaining an extension). You also need a modern, machine-readable passport, so if you have an old passport you may need to get this renewed ahead of your trip.
You can only travel under one ESTA at once, so it’s important that you don’t already have a valid ESTA from a previous trip. You may be asked to provide proof that you have a return ticket within 90 days of your arrival. You may also be required to demonstrate that you have enough money to last you for the duration of your stay.
It’s important to check the ESTA list to make sure your nationality is eligible – this list of visa waver countries does change from time to time, depending on political factors.
If you’re planning a trip to the US anytime in the next few months, we recommend applying now for your ESTA. You are required to start your application at least 72 hours before departure. If you’ve left things a bit late, we can advise you whether your application has been completed correctly and ensure you are eligible to travel as planned.
Applying for an ESTA is really very simple. The application process should only take you about 10 minutes for each person travelling, and we’ll check your application carefully to make sure it goes through OK and you don’t face any delays getting your authorisation to travel. You’ll need your passport to hand, and the dates when you intend to travel. We can usually check your application and get back to you on the same day.
Our check and application service should help your trip to the States proceed smoothly – the best advice we can offer is not to leave things until the last minute. Complete your ESTA requirements early, then all you need to think about is what to pack!