How to get into the ESTA Club

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If you’re visiting the US soon as a tourist or on business, you’ll need to start thinking about applying for an ESTA. But what the heck is an ESTA? How do you apply for one? CAN you apply for one? Do you need a visa too?

We answer your most frequently asked questions below.


What is ESTA?

The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an alternative form of travel authorisation that helps US officials determine if you’re eligible to travel to the US, visa free.

By applying for an ESTA, you can skip the lengthy and expensive process of applying for a visa and take care of the entire thing online. It’s a much easier application process for the millions of tourists who travel to the United States every year.

The ESTA allows you to travel to the US for business or tourism purposes, for up to 90 days.


Can anyone apply for an ESTA? 

To be eligible to apply for an ESTA, you have to be a citizen or a national from a country that’s a member of the Visa Waiver Programme, which is not an easy club to join.

So which countries hold a membership to this exclusive club we hear you ask?

Countries that are considered ‘high value’ and ‘low risk.’ They must meet rigorous requirements regarding things like human rights, passport security and very low non-immigrant visa refusal rates. 

As well as meeting these requirements, countries must also tick certain boxes to qualify as having a high Human Development Index. This factors in things like life expectancy, education and gross national income per capita. So, in so many words, developed countries.

As Trump continues to implement extreme vetting, there are now even more hoops to jump through to get into the Visa Waiver Programme.

There are currently 38 countries in the club, but club members are reassessed continuously to make sure existing and new requirements are being met.


What’s the difference between an ESTA and a Visa?  

The main difference is the application process.

 If you’re applying for a visa, it can involve long waiting periods, face-to-face interviews at US embassies and expensive application processes.

If you are eligible to apply for the ESTA, it’s an online application process which is quick, simple and much cheaper! It’s a no brainer. 

The ESTA will grant you access to travel to the US, but it’s not a visa. Being part of the visa Waiver Program means that ESTA holders don’t need a conventional visa.

The most popular US Visas are B visas (B1 and B2) which are intended for those who are ineligible to apply for an ESTA, or for travellers whose trip will last longer than 90 days.


Should I travel with an ESTA or a visa? 

It depends entirely on your situation.

If you are eligible to apply for the ESTA and you are travelling for 90 days or less, it’s worth applying for the ESTA.

If you are looking at visiting the US for longer than 90 day’s you will need to apply for a Visa.

If you are ineligible to apply for an ESTA or you are looking to work, study or train in the US, you will most likely need to apply for a Visa.

If you’re not sure, get in touch. That’s what we’re here for!  


How long does an ESTA last? 

The ESTA approval is valid for trips into the United States over two years, or until you change your passport. So, if you’re looking at revisiting the US within those two years, there’s no need to reapply.

However, you can’t stay over 90 consecutive days during these two years. If you’re looking at staying for longer, you will need to apply for a visa.


How long until my ESTA is approved? 

Most online applications are approved within minutes of submission. However, there are odd cases where a decision on an application can take up to 72 hours. However, in the grand scheme of things, 72 hours is nothing.


Are ESTA applications free? 

Applicants will have to pay an ESTA fee of $14, which is still a lot cheaper than the visa process.


How do I apply for an ESTA?

Applying for your ESTA online is really simple.

You will need to fill in an online form, which will take around 10 minutes to complete where you will need to provide some information about yourself and your trip. 

You will know whether or not your ESTA has been approved within 24 hours.

Apply for your ESTA here