If you are planning to travel to the United States sometime soon, you should already know that there are certain requirements for entering the country. For a tourist trip, you will need to apply for an ESTA in order to travel to the US. In this article, you will find everything you need to know about this specific travel authorisation and the steps to follow to obtain it easily and quickly 😉
ESTA, the electronic travel authorisation
ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is part of the Visa Waiver Program. It can replace a visa for New York for people from some countries, that include the UK. Although it is not directly comparable to a visa in some points, for many travellers this much more easily obtainable document will serve the same purpose.
The ESTA is a travel authorization that allows one to stay in the United States for a maximum of 90 days (with no possibility of extending the stay). It can be used for both tourist and business travel.
For other types of stays (studies, longer trips, extended work), different types of visas will be required. People with a valid visa do not need an ESTA.
The ESTA is an electronic document sent directly to the US authorities. You will not need to present it on arrival, but as a precaution you can always keep it on your smartphone or even print it out on paper.
How to obtain an ESTA?
The process of applying for an ESTA for travel to the United States is much simpler and faster than that for obtaining a visa. The application is made directly on the official website of the US Homeland Security. To do so, it is necessary to register and follow different steps. The first thing I recommend you do if English is not your primary language is to change the language of the site, by clicking on the flag of your own country in the top right of the page. Then you just have to start the procedure:
- Click on "Make a new application": you will be able to choose between an individual application and a group of applications – which is ideal when you are going with your family, as minors must also be in possession of their own ESTA before they depart.
- Fill out the form completely with your personal information. Usually you will also be asked to upload your passport and fill in your dates of stay in addition to your name, age, etc.
- Pay the application processing fee (currently estimated at $4 – January 2023) and submit your ESTA application.
- Do keep your application number in mind: you can use it to check the status of your demand.
- Once your application has been validated, you will still have to pay an issuing fee. This fee is currently estimated at around £19 per application, or $21 (January 2023).
- If you need to stop during the application process, you can select "Save and Exit" to resume later.
Normally, as soon as your application is complete, you will get a response in principle: approved, in progress (a 72-hour delay is required) or denied.
On the Internet, some sites specialise in visa and ESTA applications. For a few pounds (or sometimes more), they take care of the application process. I really don't recommend using these sites, one because you can never be safe from running into a scam, and two because they are not particularly helpful, the application process being both simple and quick.
Useful tips for your ESTA application to travel to the United States
To ensure that your application is accepted, you should pay close attention to the accuracy of the information you provide and make sure that you are actually eligible for an ESTA. For the latter, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be a citizen of one of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (you can find the list here).
- Have a valid biometric passport from a VWP country.
- Not have a visa.
- Travel as a tourist or on business.
- Travel for less than 90 days.
Please note, however, that if you travelled to or stayed in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after 1 March 2011, you will not normally qualify for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. The same applies if you have travelled to or stayed in Cuba.
You should also be aware that vaccinations (including Covid-19) are required for entry into the US💉 Most fully vaccinated foreign citizens will be able to obtain their ESTA without any problems. The US authorities will accept any COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization or the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These include AstraZeneca, BIBP/Sinopharm, Covishield, Janssen, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac.
People who have received the full course of an active (not placebo) AstraZeneca or Novavax COVID-19 vaccine will also be considered vaccinated. Please visit the websites of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Embassy for more information and clarity.
As of June 2022, the CDC no longer requires pre-departure COVID-19 testing for air travellers to the US.
Upon arrival, fully vaccinated travellers will not be quarantined, but will be advised to have a viral test within 3 to 5 days of arrival in the US.
Alternatively, if you have recovered from COVID-19 within the last 90 days, you will not need to be tested (regardless of your vaccination status).
Be aware, however, that if you plan to travel within the United States, individual states may have their own quarantine requirements. A full list of local quarantine requirements is available on the CDC website. I really recommend that you consult it before you start your trip, so that you do not get caught off guard.
As for the proof of vaccination, the CDC website lists those that are accepted by the US authorities. The list includes the European Union's COVID digital certificate, but if you have a different proof, go directly to their site to check that it will be accepted.
If you are not fully vaccinated, unfortunately only people with a waiver or US citizens, US nationals and US legal permanent residents can enter the US without being vaccinated. However, there is a list of exceptions to the vaccination requirement for certain categories of non-citizens and non-immigrants, which you can find on the CDC and US Embassy websites.
Children 17 years of age and younger are exempt from the vaccination requirement.
Back to the ESTA application itself now, here are some tips to avoid making mistakes when filling in your form:
- Do not use accents or special characters,
- If you have two surnames, enter both in the appropriate box.
How much does an ESTA authorisation cost?
When applying for your Electronic Travel Authorization, everyone is charged a $4 processing fee. If your application is subsequently approved, you will then be charged a $21 issuance fee. The total price will be $25.
If your application is refused, the $4 processing fee will not be refunded.
When to apply for an ESTA to travel to the US?
The ESTA application must be made at least 72 hours before your arrival in the United States, but as this document is imperative, I still recommend taking a little margin and dealing with the paperwork beforehand: at least 10 to 15 days before your departure 😉
You can even do it much earlier, because an ESTA is valid for 2 years from its date of issue. What's more, its validity period only matters for the date of your arrival – you won't need another ESTA if yours expires during your stay in the US.
During its validity period, your ESTA can be used for multiple trips to the United States. It will remain valid as long as your personal details (address, civil status, etc.) have not changed.
- Your ESTA is linked to your passport: if your passport expires, you must also apply for a new travel authorisation. Moreover, your passport must be valid for the duration of your stay.
- Even though an ESTA is valid for 2 years, it only allows one to stay in the United States for a maximum of 90 days.
What if my ESTA application is rejected?
Sometimes applications are refused without necessarily stating the reason. These refusals may concern travellers who have been in certain sensitive countries (as mentioned above), or unemployed people – the US government does all it can to prevent illegal immigration.
Sometimes refusals are also simply due to mistakes in the application.
If your application has not been approved even though you did everything by the book, you will then need to get a temporary residence visa. This is a much longer process and requires you to follow the non-immigrant visa application procedure. That’s mainly why it's imperative to apply for ESTA in advance – that way you can turn to another procedure if your application is rejected 🙂
No matter what kind of trip you decide to take, I also really recommend getting insurance for the USA! It's best if you don't need it, obviously, but if there's one country where travel insurance is worth it should anything go awry, it's the US!
To wrap up this article, if you are planning to visit New York, don't hesitate to consult my blog articles to better prepare your trip! 😄