Applying for an ESTA visa: what you need to know

If you are a resident of one of the 39 countries listed on the US Visa Waiver Program, you can travel to the US via ESTA, an electronic permit that provides travel authorisation for the USA, provided you want to visit for tourism or business purposes only.

If you were previously unaware of this facility and want to avail it when you travel to the US, here are a few details you must know before getting started on your ESTA application.

Conditions for applying

The US has implemented a Visa Waiver Program for citizens of 39 countries, according to which they have a visa exemption for travelling to the US. If you are a national of one of these countries, you can travel to the US without a visa, but you will need ESTA.

Moreover, you can only apply if you plan to stay in the US for a maximum of 90 days. You must get a proper visa if you plan to stay beyond 3 months. Also, your travel purpose should not be anything other than business or tourism. If you are seeking transit via the US, you must get ESTA in this case as well.

What is required for ESTA application?

If you want to apply for ESTA, you must ensure that the following items are in order.

  • You must have a valid e-passport from a country listed on the US VWP.
  • You will need to provide your home address, relevant phone number, valid email ID, and emergency contact phone and email.
  • You may also need to provide additional information, if applicable, including your national or personal identification number, a Global Entry ID number, your employer contact and address, or contact details for your stay in the US if available.

The fee for an ESTA application is $21, and you can make payment online via Visa, MasterCard, American Express, PayPal, or Discover.

Before applying, you must ensure that your passport is valid, and the validity period must be at least six months from the day you enter the US. Your ESTA, once approved, is valid for two years, and during this time, you can visit the US multiple times, while the duration of your stay cannot exceed 90 days.

The correct time for applying

It may take up to three days or around 72 hours for approval to come through when you apply for ESTA. Many people previously unaware of this facility apply on the day of travel. While the screening process goes smoothly, if there is no underlying issue, there is no guarantee that it will come immediately. Therefore it is better to apply at least three days before you plan to travel.

You can apply several days, weeks, or months ahead of your travel. As long as the ESTA is valid and your passport has not expired, you can travel anytime.