If you are planning to travel to the USA and you are from a country that is a part of the Visa Waiver Program, you might have heard about the ESTA Visa USA program. There is a lot of confusion about this program, even though it has been around for several years now. Firstly, the ESTA Visa USA government program is not really a ‘Visa’ as such – rather, it is an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation that you need to use if you want to get on a plane to travel to the USA.
The ESTA does not replace Visas. It is a replacement for the form that you would be given prior to landing when you were on a plane to the USA. It is more of a basic ‘identity check’ than anything else. You can complete the form online via the US government website, and it costs $10 to apply. Do not use a third party website – these are not authorised by the US government and there is no guarantee that you will get a real ESTA from them. The US website is simple, easy to use, and the only ‘official’ way to get an ESTA.
The ESTA process should be smooth and fast – most people get authorisation within seconds of applying – a response will be emailed out to you. There may be occasions where it takes longer, and it is recommended that you give at least 72 hours between applying and the time your flight leaves, just in case the application needs to be checked manually. You can apply even earlier than that, and it might be a good idea to do so, just in case there are any issues with the application.
If you change your name, get a new passport, or change any other significant details such as your citizenship, then you will need to reapply for the ESTA. This is usually a fast and simple process, but again, you should do it well in advance, and supply all of the information clearly and truthfully.
When you travel to the USA, you will still need to go through the same Customs and Immigration checks, and it is still possible that you could be refused entry if the officials have any reason to be concerned about your reasons for travel, your luggage, or anything else.