The ESTA (Electronic system for travel authorisation) program by the US is a quick and convenient process that travellers having citizenship of one of the countries eligible for the US Visa Waiver Program; can use to gain entry into the country. Currently, there are 39 countries admitted to the Visa Waiver Program, and residents of these countries can travel to the US for business or tourism purposes without the hassle of acquiring a visit visa for the USA.
Most individuals who have not yet benefited from the facility may have a few misconceptions regarding the nature of ESTA. In this section, we have attempted to dispel a few misunderstood notions and summarized the five most pertinent aspects of ESTA you need to know today.
Many people think that ESTA is a visa, but it is not. Applying for an ESTA is quite different from applying for a tourist visa. In both cases, applicants are reviewed and examined via international information databases, have to give certain statements, and receive authorisation to travel for a pre-defined time period.
However, in the case of ESTA, the process is done online, is simpler than a visa process, and the cost is lower. It is also important to know that even if you have a valid ESTA, the final decision for admission approval upon arrival lies with the US Customs and Border Protection.
As many people already know, travellers can stay in the US for up to 90 days based on ESTA if they are travelling for tourism or business. However, did you know that when you leave the country, the 90-day stay window is reset, and the next time you enter the US, your maximum stay limit is 90 days.
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. If you travel to nearby destinations like Canada or Mexico during your trip to the US, your stay in those countries is considered a part of the 90 days window. Therefore, if you were under the impression that you could travel to Canada or Mexico once the 90 days in the US were over and then re-enter the US to stay for another 90 days, it is not permitted.
An ESTA is usually valid for two years, and you can travel to the US multiple times within this time frame. However, if your passport expires before that period, your ESTA will also expire, and you will have to reapply along with the new passport.
Besides passport expiry, there are a few instances where ESTA becomes invalid. For example, if you exceed the 90 days limit for staying in the US or there is a change in the status of the security questions provided on the ESTA application, the ESTA will be invalid. These could include travel to a restricted country or being arrested for a criminal offence after ESTA approval.
You can travel to the US even if your ESTA permit has one day remaining. Similarly, if the ESTA expires during your stay, you should not have any problem exiting the country.